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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Neil

    From earlier thread:

    There’s some serious evidence that in the Republic at least, Sinn Fein are doing neither the right nor the legal thing.

    How is this not the ‘right’ thing? What is it that’s so wrong in your opinion with putting your money back into the party and constituency?

    Regarding this new evidence, it raises questions but there’s no smoking gun here. One portion of the legislation provided applies:

    Not later than the 31st day of March in every year, each political party shall furnish to the Public Offices Commission a written statement, in the form directed by the said Commission, in respect of the preceding year indicating whether during that year the party received a donation exceeding in value the relevant amount specified in subsection (4) and stating in respect of each such donation (if any)—

    (i) the value of the donation, and

    (ii) the name, description and postal address of the person by or on whose behalf the donation was made.

    Is spending your money in your office a ‘donation’? If he buys paper clips, is that a donation? If he pays wages from his pocket is that a donation? Questionable in my opinion. Yes it benefits the party, but then if I go into politics and decide I want a full time Swedish Masseuse on my payroll, that’s my lookout.

    Certainly it could be looked on as a donation if the party was prepared to pay for it but I took it on myself to save the party money, quite a different case if the party says ‘we won’t pay for that, if you want that, pay for it yourself’.’

    If the party refuses to pay for someone/something in your office, can you spend your own money to get it? I see no reason why not, and think calling that a donation is stretching the meaning of the word some way.

    I would suggest that what has happened here is the right thing (for some reason you think otherwise Mick, please enlighten me). As for the legality, someone else would be better placed to make that judgement, but there’s nothing like a smoking gun in there.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s why I have asked a question Neil.

    Does SIPO consider ‘donation value’ to exclude contributions in kind? I’ve suggested that ought to be included (at the very least, for the sake of a level playing field).

    Here’s the test for what might or might not be seen as a sub rosa donation in kind: a Camel hair coat cannot be claimed as political expenses; but paper clips and the salaries of others can.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think, it will require a judgement from SIPO, based on their interpretation of the legislation linked above.

  • Sean Og

    So if I were to canvass 3 hours every night for a political party in the lead up to an election is that a contribution in kind? My time is valuable. What if I sit in an advice centre every Saturday morning helping consituents?

    I don’t buy the nonsense about living on “the average industrial wage” but this is getting a bit silly.

  • Sean Og:

    In response to your query, the Electoral Act 1997, Section 22(b)(iii) states that the following is not deemed as a donation:

    “benefits derived from services rendered by an individual, including the use of the individual’s motor vehicle…where the said service is gratuitous and is not part of that individual’s work carried out under a contract of employment…”

    In other words, if you freely and voluntarily give your time to putting up leaflets, driving voters to the polling station, or any other activity, its not a donation. But if you’re a paid employee of the party, and someone donated the money to pay your wages, that’s another story.

    Hope that clears up your question about party volunteers.

    The Electoral Act 1997 is available online at