Monday, January 14, 2008

Why are donations registered twice?

The issue over donations and their registration continues to roll on I see. As reported yesterday there are now questions hanging over George Osbourne because he received declared money to the Electoral Commission which was donated to the Conservative Party centrally but was done so with conditions that his office receive some of it. According to released emails the Parliamentary authorities said the donations did not have to appear on the Register of Members' Interest, but they have now questioned their own advice. This has been helped along by the fact that David Willets received money in the same way and did put it on the Register.

Evidently, and understandably, the Labour Party have leapt on this with a 'you too!' argument, and their glee is helped along by the names of the donors as well. After all, when the Rothchilds name appears what Labour person wouldn't inject a bit of class warfare into the mix? Just to add a 'you too' response to their 'you too' I would say this. Take a look at the Co-op Party. How many Labour MPs, up to and including the Prime Minister receive money through that party that is entirely untraceable? I know of Labour MPs who declare nothing on any Registers but are bankrolled by the Co-op. This is not to say that anything dodgy is going on with the money, just that the system of declarations is in mess. If you want to reduce the number of 'sleaze' allegations then fix the system of how and where financial contributions are to be declared.

One of the first principles of data-handling and designing databases is the removal of obvious repeated data. Currently we have a system where legally a donation must be declared to the Electoral Commission, and, under Parliamentary rules, must also be declared on the Register of Members Interests. The Register is available in electronic form as too is the Electoral Commission so why does the former not simply link to the latter? After all, the rules governing what level of contribution should be registered are identical in both cases.

Of course this would do nothing for the current questions surrounding Osbourne which are more about the grey areas of what constitutes a donation to a person and what constitutes a donation to a party where someone says 'I'd like X to receive benefit from this money'. However, I seriously doubt whether all three of the main parties have not had situations like this multiple times. When someone is tapped for money it stands to reason that how it might be spent will be mentioned, and as I said, the reaction to Osbourne is driven by an instinctive 'you too', argument rather than something that is a matter of principle. It could also easily backfire if a letter emerges pointing out where someone would like a donation spent within the Labour Party.

The point though about data repetition is one that is important. As long as their are two sources for finanical contributions then there will be times when the two do not match up which will give rise to stories. Failing to register a donation is one thing. Registering it as per the law and then failing to repeat the data elsewhere should not really be a story. It won't get rid of funding rows, but it would reduce the number of cock-ups that become seen as conspiracies.

Update: Just to clarify. When I said the Register should link to the Commission I meant that it should just refer interested parties to other. Electronically this would be a hyperlink to the Electoral Commission. What I did not mean was the databases themselves should be linked.


Newmania said...

Hmmm I was hoping you were going to clear up excatly what the principles here are Dizzy , I`m still a bit at sea if I`m honest.

Alex said...

If the money was donated to a party and the money was not then passed to the MP but was used to employ staff for party work, albeit under the direction of the MP, then the MP has received no benefit.

An appropriate analogy would be a company manager. He does not get taxed on the pay of his employees, even though they help him do some work. In Osborne's case, these CCHQ staff are allocated to him by the party, and are on the party payroll, to perform a joint role for the benefit of the party, so it is hardly a gift to the MP.

Similarly MP's do not have to report the use of constituency agents or volounteer workers who help them to get elected, nor do
ministers record the availability of grace and favour mansions.

This is clearly distinguishable from when the MP receives money directly from outside the party for the running of his office, even if it is for party purposes. The donation would not have been registered as a donation to the party and therefore has to be registered.

Windsor Tripehound said...

As an aside, Osborne was prepared to appear on Today this morning and be questioned by Jim Naughty.

Hain was invited as well, but for some strange reason declined the offer. Anne Begg was sent along to speak for him, and a right orchestra she made of the task too.

Nick said...

Donations should be registered twice.

Once by the receiver, once by the giver, and they should be independent. ie. The MP can't register both parts.

Any mismatch triggers an investigation.

If you think they are bad over registering donations, just think how awful they are on the expenses front.

Time for some audits.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you can legally link databases designed for different purposes.

It's my understanding this is one of the issues with the National Identity Register. It will actually hold very little data but will link with all the other government databases e.g. DVLA, Inland Revenue, the Police National Computer, to provide a complete picture of who you are, what you do and what you have done.

Dizzy, I hope you took a book with you on jury service. As I recall I spent more time waiting to be called as a juror than actually in court.

Apparently, if the judge says thank you to the jury, after the their verdict has been announced and sentenced passed, that means they have reached a verdict which matches his judgement.

Rickytshirt said...


If you're bringing a book take this one. It could be useful.

word ver: hihha
How jovial!

Rickytshirt said...

Ooops, supposed to put that in the previous post's comments.