Church-gates, donations and McDowell

Church-gate collections are a great way of getting small donations from large numbers of people. Parties, to my knowledge, run them nationwide once or twice a year. Individual branches also run the odd extra collection here or there for their own purposes, whenever in need of some petty cash.

The declaration threshold for a donation from one person to an individual politician is €126.97. However, it is not required of politicians or parties that they keep figures for the number of individuals who donate to a church-gate collection. A collection could therefore raise several thousand, or hundred thousand, or million, or billion, or… you get my drift, without any donations breaching the threshold (or the donation limits for that matter).

Someone could drop €500 into a bucket and their contribution would be diluted by the people who donate €1 and €2 coins. In this way all documentation, accounting and declarations could be by-passed. While I can’t say that does happen, I can say it can happen under the current system.

Declared donations to all parties are down. Still, it’s interesting to see reports today that Fianna Fáil, despite hideous polling numbers, are doing well at the Church gate. Perhaps the same is being experienced by all parties? Fine Gaelers, done any collections lately? Maybe Joe and Joan Public can’t afford to write cheques exceeding €126.97 and are choosing instead to contribute directly from their pocket. Are the Greens getting the same reaction? Green readers, any experiences?

Anyway, it’s good to know people still care about the political process remain prepared to contribute, if only at the Church gate. Isn’t it?

Also in today’s paper concerning political donations, Michael McDowell saying something or other and getting publicity (to which I will now add, in my own small way)…

At the conference on constitutional reform, which was organised by the UCD school of law, Mr McDowell said that calls by the media for every donation a party receives to be released into the public domain are an attempt by them to secure power.

“Do we want a society where every €100 or €200 contribution needs to be public? Most people don’t want their neighbours knowing they gave money to a party.

Does Mr McDowell not realise that most €200 contributions are already public?

In the US you are required to fill in a form before buying merchandise which goes towards supporting a political campaign. “Wanna buy a mug? Three dollaz and fill in the form.” That’s your $3 donation. Big deal? No.

And yes, there are small towns in America too where gossip spreads like wildfire. Not all of which are clearly red or blue, either.

We really need to get away from the idea that there is some sort of shame or scandal in donating to a political party. Like lobbying, if there was legislation to make it less opaque the public would realise that the activity in itself is not at all inherently corrupting or, by default, an attempt to seek detrimental influence. In fact, both can be extremely positive contributions to democracy.

Questions can be raised when the full picture is not apparent. So why not show the full picture?

One thought on “Church-gates, donations and McDowell”

  1. In the US, the records of donations are also freely accessible, normally online, to anyone. You can search by street & zipcode (i.e. narrow it down to your block more or less) and find out how much your neighbours donated to whom in which parties.
    For example, here are the donations made by James Carville, the well known Democratic strategist, for the 2008 cycle:

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