Does SIPO consider a ‘donation in kind’ an exception to the legislation?

The specific legislation concerned is in Section 24 of the Electoral Act of 1997 (which is well worth going through to test the argument below for loopholes). Sitting snugly under Faduda’s story on Martin McGuinness there is another one which details a prima facae case that Senator David Cullinane may be breach of the donation rules.

And it looks as though other Sinn Fein members of the Oireachtas may be using a similar rationale for not making a full declaration of how the bulk of their income is channelled to the party. The logic is slightly complicated, but sound enough:

On Saturday, Sinn Féin senator David Cullinane was asked where any money above the €530 per week allowance he received from the party went. He replied “into the local constituency employing people who work for the party.”

When I asked the senator David Cullinane where the legislation governing political donations made a distinction between money donated to Sinn Féin headquarters, which has to be declared to SIPO, the Standards in Public Office Commission, and money donated to the party at a constituency level, his answer was “you can spend your money on your constituency office. You are limited in what you can donate directly to a party. Difference.”

The Senator appears to suggest that this money is his salary which, remaining fully under his control, he spends as proxy for the party in his local constituency*? Therefore we might tentatively draw two conclusions:

  • One, if it is his salary (and not a money transfer to the bank account of the local party), then the publicly declared salary level is merely a useful fiction. If Gerard is correct the unaccounted for figures are quite substantial.
  • Two, and more importantly, if his salary is being directly used to build assets on behalf of the party locally, SIPO will surely consider this much larger figure as a donation in kind.
Time, perhaps, to take the story back to SIPO to see what they make of it all?

* Please note that it is a informal convention amongst Senators of all parties to have ‘notional constituencies’ even though there is no official geographical representation within the Seanad.

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