The Electoral Act of 1997 introduced a new system for controlling and limiting election expenditure by political parties and candidates in Ireland. Since the commencement of the Act, parties and candidates must account for all that they spend on an election, including expenditure on advertising, promoting the party, opposing other candidates and soliciting votes. The election period starts on the date of the dissolution of the Dáil and runs to polling day, including both dates.
The 1997 Act sets down limits so that candidates are only allowed to spend a certain amount on elections. The maximum that a candidate can spend on a Dáil election is
- €45,200 per candidate in a five-seat constituency
- €37,650 per candidate in a four-seat constituency
- €30,150 per candidate in a three-seat constituency
The 1997 Act also created a system of reimbursement of election expenses. If a candidate received at least one-quarter of the quota of votes for the constituency in which he or she ran, he or she may apply for a reimbursement of up to €8,700 of his or her election expenses.
- Each political party must appoint a "national agent" who must account for and control all of the party's election expenses. As well as a national agent for each party, each candidate must appoint an "election agent" to control the candidate's expenditure on elections (the candidate can appoint himself or herself).
- The national agent or election agent must be the person to enter into all contracts that involve spending money on the election, including booking advertisements with the newspapers, etc.
- Each political party's national agent must deliver a detailed statement to the Standards in Public Office Commission within 56 days after the polling day. The statement must describe all of the expenses incurred by the party.
- Each candidate's election agent must deliver a similar statement setting out the candidate's expenditure. A candidate may allot some of his or her spending limit to his or her party. This must be set out in the statement.
- Invoices or claims relating to expenditure on elections must be sent to the national or election agents within 45 days after the polling day. If they are claimed after 45 days, the agent cannot pay them.
- It is an offence for a national or an election agent to spend over the limit or to fail to submit the statement of expenses. It is also an offence to pay an election expense that was not claimed within 45 days after the polling day.
- Every candidate who is unsuccessful in the Dáil election must deliver a statement of donations within 56 days after the polling day. This statement must give details of any donations above 634.87 euro that the candidate received in relation to the election. Successful candidates will have to make a statement of donations as part of the annual declaration that all TDs must make.
- No candidate can receive an individual donation greater than €2,539.48 for election expenses. No political party can receive an individual donation greater than €6,348.69 for election expenses.