DUP denies seeking delay in publishing £435,000 Brexit donation details
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has denied trying to pressurise the Electoral Commission into withholding details of a major donation until after the Northern Ireland Assembly election.
Details of £435,000 the party had been given to campaign for Brexit ahead of last year's EU referendum were revealed by the commission in February.
Emails obtained by The Detail showed that the DUP argued against the publication of its campaign funding.
It wanted a delay until after 2 March.
Speaking on BBC Talkback, the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he and his party were "not seeking to prevent the publication" of the donation details.
"We merely questioned whether it was an appropriate thing to release the information in the middle of an election campaign," he said.
"There is a convention in the UK that this type of material isn't published during an election campaign.
"But it has been in this case, so clearly the precedent has been established.
The Lagan Valley MP added: "There's no doubt that other parties used [the donation] in a negative way to attack the DUP."
In one of the emails to the Electoral Commission, the body that monitors political finances in the UK, Sir Jeffrey said it would be risking "its legitimacy as a regulator" by revealing the donation ahead of the election.
'Obsession with DUP'
The commission said it had a "statutory responsibility" to publish all spending information received by registered EU referendum campaigners "as soon as is practicable".
The donation was given to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council, a group of pro-UK businesspeople led by Conservative Party member Richard Cook.
About £425,000 of the total was spent by the DUP on pro-Brexit advertising, with the party keeping the remainder.
During the referendum campaign, it took out a four-page "Vote to leave the EU" advertisement in the Metro newspaper, which is available in London and other cities but not in Northern Ireland.
How the DUP spent £425,000 on Brexit
- £282,000 on advertising in Metro newspaper
- £99,616 on promotional material
- £32,750 with Canadian IT and consultancy firm
- £10,823 spent in Northern Ireland
Sir Jeffrey said the DUP had gone "further than the law required" by revealing the identity of the group that gave his party the money.
"The SDLP have never done that; the UUP have never done that; Sinn Fein have never done that," he added.
"There seems to be an obsession with the DUP and no-one is asking questions of the other parties.
"We have nothing to hide on this - we are proud of the role that we played; we are happy with what we have done.
"I am proud of the role we played in the Brexit campaign."