Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Gummy Spending Limits And the Need for Ethical Cash

After months of haranguing the Minister for Environment, John Gormley TD, eventually launched the much-vaunted local election spending limits today.

You'll find the details here.

The results, predictably, are a toothless whitewash, if that metaphorical mix is permitted.

For LEA's the size of Tallaght Central, a €15,000 spending limit will apply. For members of political parties, this is automatically reduced to €13,500 because a ten per cent levy (haven't we had enough of that word) is imposed on those getting support from party head offices.

Although our ward is one of the biggest in the country, the €15,000 doesn't bother me one bit. We simply haven't a hope of raising that amount of cash to spend. Nor do I intend traipsing along to a host of banks looking for loans that we may very well struggle to pay back.

We are more ambitious, perhaps, than any other campaign in Tallaght Central and I am sure our efforts will be noticeable in the final weeks of the campaign in particular. Regardless, our expenditure will be a fraction of that figure.

The figure is too high in the first place, but that's not likely to affect the heavy spenders anyway. The 'spending limits' apply only to the last 60 days of the campaign. Anyone in fear of going over the limit can simply front-end their spending to, say, 61 days before!

Not that it particularly matters. The proposals, as usual, are toothless. There is little on the way of resourcing of investigation of how accounts have been kept, their accuracy and what has been left off. Even if dodgy dealings were uncovered, there seems to be *no* punishment for those who lie or fraud their way in election accounts.

This is a typical Green governmental sop, simple as.

We will win our campaign here in Tallaght Central not on how much we spend, nor on how much we say we haven't spent - but on actual political engagement with voters, by the promotion of our message, and by the politics and values we put forward.

Money is most certainly needed for a modern election campaign - that's why I launched a donation drive last week - but for us, donations are small and from ordinary people who support our campaign. We refuse point-blank the big business and speculator bribery which hurt our communities and corrupted the politics of this country, and continues to do so.

Fianna Fáil and their cronies will have you believing this was all in the distant past, a relic of a byegone era. But let's look at facts - as Elaine Byrne has in today's Times.

1. Treasury Holdings declared donations of €100,000 to Fianna Fáil between 1997 and 2007 - and a further €70,000 to the PD's.

2. In total, the Fianna Fáil party, including its parliamentary wing, declared donations of more than €3 million during those ten years - approaching 60% of all declared donations.

3. Of the €1.5 million donated directly to the Fianna Fáil party itself, €600,000 - about 40% - came straight from developers.

4. These are iceberg tips. As Byrne notes, "The 2008 standards commission report found that €8.8 million in political donations were not disclosed in the three-week period before the 2007 general election (never mind that spent in the previous two years!)."

It's entirely factual to say Fianna Fáil are the party most supported by, and supportive of, big developers and big bankers. It is political corruption of the highest order - whether in-your-face-blatant or only blatant (there's nothing subtle about it). And a huge part of the progressive task is to ensure that culture of closeness is purged from Irish politices in this generation.