The Standards in Public Office Commission has a role under electoral law and ethics in public office legislation. It comprises the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Chairman and Clerk of the Dáil, and the Clerk of the Seanad. It appoints one of its members to be chairperson.

The Commission publishes guidelines and provides advice under the Ethics in Public Office legislation. It investigates alleged contraventions of the legislation. It has a supervisory role under electoral law in relation to political donations, funding and electoral expenses.

The Commission after consultation with the Committee on Members Interests draws up guidelines for public servants, officeholders, candidates and agents in relation to election. It may give advice on certain matters on request. It is obliged to respond to certain requests within 21 days.

Where the Commission on completion of investigation believes that there is a breach of legislation, it may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Commission publishes and makes available statements of donations, electoral expenses and declarations of interest.

There are limits on electoral expenditure by parties and candidates in Dáil, Presidential and European election. The Local Elections Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure Act 1999 governs expenditure on local authority elections.

Political parties and candidates must appoint agents for the purpose of the legislation. They must account for their electoral expenditure. This covers all expenditure in order to promote or oppose directly or indirectly the  interests of the party, present policies or particular policies of a party or comment or to solicit votes for or against the party or influence the outcome of the election.

It includes expenditure by a party on opinion polls within 60 days prior to the poll. Where goods and services are provided free or at a reduced rate, they are deemed to be an election expense and must be included at a commercial rate.

The election period in respect of which expenses are restrictions apply, applies to the period from the date of dissolution of the Dáil to polling day. In the case of other elections, it applies during the period from when the Minister sets the date for the poll until the polling day itself.

Expenditure incurred prior to the period on services, goods and property used during the period count as election expenses.

Election expenses do not include the payment of the deposit, reasonable living expenses of candidates, out-of-pocket expenses legitimately incurred, free postage facilities, party political broadcast provided by law, facilities provided by the Oireachtas or European Parliament, expenditure incurred in a previous election already included in an electoral statement.

Assistance provided by employees of a political party without receiving any extra remuneration are not be included. Similarly, services rendered by a person provided free or gratis outside of his employment, business or profession are  exempt.

Every party must appoint a national agent to account for electoral expenditure. The Standards in Public Office Commission must be notified of the identity of the agent concerned. The agent must enter contracts for the purpose of expenditure by the party.

Candidates must appoint an election agent. They are notified to the returning officer for the constituency. The candidate himself may be an agent and he is deemed so unless he notifies to the contrary. Contracts involving expenses by the candidate must be entered by the agent. That election agent is obliged to maintain accounts of expenditure and account for it by way of return to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Where any person who is not the national agent, election agent, candidate or person authorized by him,  proposes to incur expenditure, he must notify the Standards in Public Office Commission. This must include the nature or purpose of the amount of expenditure, the details of the person proposing to spend monies and the connection with the party concerned.

A person incurring such expenditure must themselves furnish a statement to the Standards in Public Office Commission. Failure to do so is an offence.

In the case of local authority elections, the obligations are to account to the authority.

The payments of electoral expenses above a figure must be vouched by the proof of the transaction.

Publishers of newspapers etc. may not publish ads unless the expenditure is incurred by the relevant agent, the candidate or national agent. Where a third-party books expenditure, proof must be given that the above certificates to the Standards in Public Office Commission or local authority have been made.

Claims against the national agent or candidate’s agent for expenses must be made within 45 days. If this is not done, it is not enforceable. This effectively creates a very short time limit for debts relating to such services.

Parties must apportion expenditure incurred by them amongst the candidates. The candidates must consent, and the return must be made to the Standards in Public Office Commission. Expenditure by political party in the constituency other than by a national agent is assumed to be incurred by the agent / candidate.

The amounts of expenditures per candidate are set down by law It varies with the size of the constituency. There are  provisions for the designation by ministerial order of the maximum expenditure for various types of election.

Each party’s national agent must make a detailed return within 56 days to the Standards in Public Office Commission of electoral expenses. Details of each candidate and agreements regarding apportionment of expenses must be furnished. Similarly, each candidate must make a return within the same time limit. Each return should be vouched and declared.

Broadly similar provisions apply to a Presidential election. That is no national party agent. Each candidate appoints his own agent. Expenditure of a party supporting the candidate is deemed that of the candidate. Each party candidate must notify the appointment of an election agent.

Similarly, returns must be made within 56 days of the polling day.

The Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act, 1999, makes broadly similar provision for local elections. The local authority itself performs the role of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The parties appoint national agents and candidates appoint their own agents in the same manner as above.

A party is obliged to appoint a designated person for each electoral area, where it has candidates. The local area party agent must submit the details of the election expenditure for its candidates in the area concerned. The candidates themselves need not appoint election agents. However, the candidates must make returns and declarations. Contracts above, a minimum amount,  as with Dáil elections must be made by and with the relevant agent. The relevant return must be made within 90 days.

The State makes annual payments under the Electoral Act to qualified political parties for administration, research and organization expenses other than those relating to elections. A qualified party must be registered in the register of political parties and must have secured at least 2% of the national first preference vote at the preceding election. The Minister may make regulations providing for payments to independent members of the Dail.

That totally payment to all parties is capped and may be increased in line with the civil service remuneration. The amount is apportioned to parties in accordance with  their share of the national vote. It is paid after the Standards in Public Office Commission certifies that the terms and conditions are complied with by the party concerned.

The payments may only be used for administration, research, education and training, policy formation, coordination of the branch activities and members.  The expenditure may not be used in relation to any election.

The parties must provide audited annual statements vouching that their expenditure has been put to the relevant permissible uses. It must show the actual application of funds relevant to the permissible use. The returns are laid before the Oireachtas.

There is a separate system of reimbursement of election expenses. The limit is the amount of expenditure incurred or [€6,250] or if lower. The candidate must obtain at least one quarter of a quota in the vote in order to qualify. This may be on first preferences or transfers.

The candidate must apply to the Public Office Commission. He must comply with the above mentioned legislation. Expenditure by a party in the constituency is deemed expenditure by the candidate for this purpose.

There is power for introduction of a similar provisions in respect of European elections, which has been enacted. The limits are higher than for Dail candidates due to the larger size of the constituencies.

Parties must take make a return of all donations over [€5,080]. The return must be made annually. It must give details of the donor. Donations received by subsidiary organizations under the umbrella of a political party must also be returned. This may include a branch or association controlled by the party or its officials.

Each member of the Oireachtas, European Parliament must make a return to the Standards in Public Office Commissions with details of donations above [€625] received in the previous year. The details of the donor etc. must be returned.

Unsuccessful candidates in elections for the Oireachtas or European elections must make a return of donations over €500 received in relation to the election. Successful candidates make the return as part of their general annual return.

There are equivalent  provisions in respect of donations in Presidential, Senate and local elections. In Presidential elections, candidates must make the requisite return to the Standards in Public Office Commission within 56 days. This applies both to the successful President and the unsuccessful candidates.

Equivalent provisions apply to Senate elections. Local authority election candidates must declare donations over the same amount  to the relevant local authority itself within 90 days of polling.

Certain donors who make donations in excess of [€5,080] to two or more persons who are members of the same party or one or more persons and to the party of which they are members must make a disclosure to be Standards in Public Office Commission.

Corporate owners must themselves put detail of donations in excess of the threshold in their annual return. This declaration applies irrespective of the amount. If total donations in a year to one party is more than [threshold] the donor must declare it. Failure to do so is an offence.

A member or candidate may not receive a donation if he knows there is reason to know that the donor is required to make a statement and does not intend to do so. The candidate must disclose this to the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Financial institutions, trade unions and public companies must publish annual donations above [higher limit], which they make to any party or candidate. Details of the donation must be given.

A donation may be in cash, in kind, by way of services of provision of goods or services at undervalue. It may include contributions made at fund-raising event. A payment to attend a fund-raising event may be a donation to the extent of the percentage profit.

Donations do not include

  • party political broadcast time.
  • free postage facilities.
  • facilities provided to members of the Oireachtas or European Parliament, by reason of their office.
  • assistance provided free by a person whose services are not normally part of his employment or business.
  • articles, coverage or publicity which are not advertising.
  • benefits provided by staff of political party on behalf of the candidate where they are not an extra reward for that service.
  • expenditure by political parties on behalf of their candidates at election time.

Donations passed by a candidate to the party need not be declared by the candidate. However,  the party must confirm and acknowledge that it has been passed to it. It is disclosable by the party itself.

Parties may not accept anonymous donations over [€127]. Particulars must be forwarded to be Standards in Public Office Commission within 14 days. A similar prohibition applies both to parties and candidates.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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