As the SKWAWKBOX covered immediately after the General Election, the DUP received a huge donation during the EU referendum campaign from an unincorporated entity with links to Saudi Arabia – but the identity of the real donor is shrouded in secrecy, because Northern Irish law allows political parties to withhold the information.
As Open Democracy revealed yesterday, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire’s transparency legislation due before a special committee of MPs today, will ironically allow the DUP to continue to hide the £435,000 donation it received before the referendum – which allowed it to spend £282,000 on a single ‘wraparound’ ad, the largest sum it had ever spent on an electoral campaign.
The ad was wrapped around the London Metro.
Why was a Northern Irish party paying its biggest ever sum for a Brexit ad in London? It’s not known – but if a person or organisation wanted to pay for a London ad without having to report the spending or source, it could do so by giving the money to the DUP.
Brokenshire’s legislation specifies a start date for the disclosure of donors in Northern Ireland that will mean the DUP does not have to reveal its donor – even though a law is already in place that could be used to force it to disclose donors as far back as 2014.
Adam Ramsay and Mary Fitzgerald, writing for Open Democracy, comment:
Everyone will deny, of course, that this has anything to do with the squalid £1bn deal the Conservatives made with the DUP in May this year, in order to keep May’s government in power.
Asked in July why there weren’t granting transparency from 2014, the Northern Ireland office said to Channel 4 that James Brokenshire “does not believe that it is right or fair to impose retrospective regulations on people who donated in accordance with the rules set out in law at the time”.
But the reality is that the 2014 Act made clear that all donations from then on would one day be public. Talk to people in Northern Ireland, and they are clear: the assumption was always that one day, all details held by the Electoral Commission about donations from 2014 onward would one day be published. This is what the donors expected, it’s what the parties expected, and it’s what the public had demanded.
Now the Tories are seeking to change the law in a way that will allow the DUP to keep the details secret.
Quid pro quo?
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