Varadkar advised donors on getting around legally permitted donation limits, forced to change advice

Leo Varadkar advised potential donors on how to get around legally permitted donation limits – telling them they could use their “spouse, children and parents”.

Varadkar was forced to retract this advice last year after a SIPO probe into his undeclared donations for which he said he was “deeply embarrassed”, according to heavily redacted freedom of information records released to The Ditch.

Despite this embarrassment, Varadkar still hadn’t given a full account of his donations with this correspondence and later had to submit a third statement to the ethics commission.

The Ditch first reported on the taoiseach’s undeclared donations in August 2023 and earlier this month won a High Court challenge against SIPO over its refusal to release his political donation statements.

‘I’m deeply embarrassed’

In May 2023 SIPO asked Varadkar to explain why he hadn’t declared multiple donations received in 2018 and 2022. Among these was a donation from attorney general Rossa Fanning.

Varadkar failed to address SIPO’s questions and they were forced to write to him again in August 2023, this time giving the taoiseach 14 days to respond. 

On 30 August, 2023 Varadkar sent SIPO a four-page letter, along with 32 pages of documentation, in which he is understood to have made certain admissions concerning the undeclared donations. 

SIPO redacted two and a half pages of the correspondence in the version released yesterday to The Ditch, with SIPO invoking the “public interest” and “respecting the privacy” of Varadkar in its refusal to publish the full contents of the letter.

“I am deeply embarrassed that these mistakes happened,” wrote Varadkar to SIPO, after these two and a half pages of redactions.  

The letter and documentation submitted to SIPO by Varadkar does however reveal that, in advance of a 2022 fundraising event, he advised potential donors how to skirt electoral funding rules. 

“I would like to invite you to a fundraising dinner I am hosting to raise money for the next electoral contest that Fine Gael and I will face in the Dublin West Constituency,” wrote Varadkar in an email to party members on 13 April, 2022, as well as in a letter to businesspeople two weeks later.

The email and letter included a document titled “Notes For Donation Limits”, which included suggestions on circumventing donation thresholds.

“Donors who are at their limit have the option of buying on behalf of family members (spouse, children (over 18) and parents,” read Varadkar’s guidelines, which also informed financial supporters that “cash can also be accepted with a limit of €200”.

Varadkar however failed to advise donors they would be required by law to maintain certain records as intermediaries if they were collecting money from others on his behalf – an issue that was raised by SIPO when it wrote to him in May 2023.

The taoiseach finally admitted to SIPO in August 2023 that the procedures he had in place for collecting funds “did not work” despite claiming earlier that year that “all donations are recorded… in compliance with SIPO guidelines”.

“I plan to enhance the systems and processes in place to ensure this doesn't recur… in addition, I have updated the statement that goes to donors and made specific reference to the responsibilities of intermediaries,” wrote Varadkar in his letter to SIPO on 30 August, 2023.

In new donor guidelines included in his August 2023 correspondence to SIPO, Varadkar deleted suggestions about using family members to work around donation limits and removed the option to give the taoiseach cash donations.

Instead Varadkar’s new guidelines informed potential donors that “a donation by an intermediary must be accompanied by a notification that the donation is made on behalf of” a third party and that it must include “the name, description and postal address” of the donor. 

Despite Varadkar’s claims in his August 2023 letter to SIPO that he was “deeply embarrassed” over his failures, it transpired months later in November 2023 that he still hadn’t fully disclosed all donations and was forced to submit a third donation statement for 2018 and 2022 later that month.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors