Two West Australian candidates disendorsed by One Nation are battling the party to retain the full share of public reimbursement for their campaigns. By Tom Ravlic.

One Nation candidates chase funds

Disendorsed West Australian One Nation candidate Sandy Baraiolo with One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.

Two former One Nation candidates remain locked in a dispute with the party over whether it will keep 25 per cent of their public funding even though they were disendorsed during the campaign. The former candidates, Dane Sorensen and Sandy Baraiolo, argue the political party has no right to any portion of their public funding because they did not sign any paperwork permitting the party to keep those funds.

The Western Australian Electoral Commission requires all independents and political parties to ensure they lodge any claims for public funding by July 31 for candidates that received more than 4 per cent of the vote. Any claims for public funding received after that date will not be considered by the commission. One Nation notified former candidates in a letter dated July 7 that the party intended to lodge a return with the Electoral Commission this week.

“We are allowed one only bulk claim for funding for the Party and we will be sending that in next Wednesday 12th July 2017,” One Nation’s treasurer, Greg Smith, told candidates in the letter. “I have requests out to some candidates for answers to various issues, if these are not answered by then – you will not gain reimbursement.”

The party treasurer’s letter notes that some former candidates are concerned the process for getting public funding was “drawn out”, but Smith says the party has had some challenges in getting valid documentation from former candidates. “As an example, we have received no paperwork from four of our candidates or even a return of the FD6 form which is mandatory and is covered by heavy fines if not presented to the Commission,” he says.

“Some candidates don’t know the difference between an invoice and a receipt or proof of payment. We have been asking for receipts from day one of this exercise, I advise you all again if a receipt or proof of payment is not attached to the invoice then it will not be reimbursed. In addition, if your claims are outside the parameters set down by the Electoral commission, they will not be approved.”

Smith’s letter notes that the party will receive funds from the electoral commission and that One Nation would allocate the funds from the amount it obtains from the commission.

“After Electoral Commission adjudication of the claim one funding payment will be made to the Party and the claims will be paid according to the individual results as advised by the electoral commission,” Smith says. “They will be paid from the Electoral funding pool less the 25% withheld as set down from the original agreement.”

Neither Sorensen nor Baraiolo accepts that there is an obligation on their part to pay 25 per cent of their electoral funding to the party, given that they had not given written permission for this to take place. In order to take what has become a public scrap between the party and themselves further, both have submitted their receipts to Smith and will argue their case in the hope One Nation will pass on their total allocation of public funding. Baraiolo was disendorsed following disputes with the campaign team over her having started an unauthorised candidate Facebook page, while Sorensen was disendorsed as a result of concerns about his behaviour. The letter with which he was disendorsed in part describes Sorensen’s behaviour as being abusive and belligerent when dealing with campaign officials.

Sorensen won 11.22 per cent of the vote in the seat of North West Central and Baraiolo won 7.67 per cent in Thornlie.

The public funding issue is a sore point for Sorensen. A letter he wrote to One Nation dated February 2, after he had read an agreement sent to candidates, disputes the legitimacy of the party’s claim to a 25 per cent cut of funds.

The party’s candidate agreement specified that candidates must submit their receipts to the party and that they would be reimbursed by the party in accordance with a formula stipulated by the party. A candidate would receive either 75 per cent of their expenses return, capped at $10,000, or 75 per cent of the maximum reimbursement amount. The option actioned by the party, according to the contract, would depend on which was the lesser of the two dollar amounts.

Sorensen said in the letter he did not agree to the party’s redirection of a quarter of his expenditure into its coffers. “I am funding my own campaign from my own financial resources and from donations I hopefully receive,” Sorensen’s letter said.

There were significant personal costs in deciding to run for One Nation, Sorensen says, and those included suspending work on his own business for the duration of the campaign. He found it “offensive” that the party wanted to take a quarter of his return.

“I have effectively put my business on hold – again, as have others – and have had to subcontract out a major job already, so I can dedicate more of my time and efforts to the campaign,” Sorensen said. “A lifelong friend has committed to being my campaign manager, assisted by his wife.”

An email from One Nation’s candidate liaison officer, Aidan Nagle, sent on July 7, reopened the argument for Sorensen. In a short missive to One Nation, sent to more than 50 former candidates and One Nation insiders, Sorensen let fly. He points to Schedule B of candidate paperwork, which he signed, that he says makes no mention of withholding 25 per cent of candidate funds nor did it reference any schedule that referred to that specific concept.

“I had extensive discussions with both yourself, Aidan, and [senior adviser James] Ashby, that I was not agreeable to PHON retaining 25% of my expenditure, especially in view of the fact that PHON contributed absolutely nothing towards my campaigning costs,” Sorensen said. “I respectfully request therefore, that you return 100% of any funds allocated by the WAEC that cover my personal expenditure.”

Sandy Baraiolo was equally unhappy with the party’s demand that candidates give up a quarter of the reimbursement. On several occasions, she demanded the party pay back the entire amount she spent on her campaign. Baraiolo has been a perennial writer of emails to the One Nation headquarters, requesting a receipt for her membership fees, a membership number and a copy of the rules that govern One Nation in Western Australia, among other things.

Baraiolo tells The Saturday Paper that the first time she saw her membership number was at the top of the letter that notified her of the party’s decision to expel her.

An email sent to Sorensen by Baraiolo on July 10, in response to his latest complaint, says she believes she had no option but to lodge a return herself as a result of her being disendorsed by the party in February. Baraiolo notes in her email that she is claiming $2611.52, but that One Nation could deduct the $250 that she paid on January 19 as a candidate’s fee.

An earlier email sent by Smith to Baraiolo, dated May 24, responds to a series of issues raised by her in writing that were also discussed in a phone conversation between the two on May 22. Smith reiterated to Baraiolo that even under circumstances where she has lodged her electoral return with the Western Australian Electoral Commission, there is still a requirement for her to pass on the receipts to the party to be able to claim the relevant amount.

“That is correct and as I explained to you even though you are acting as your own agent (and the WA Electoral Commission has accepted your FD6 form) you need to send me your receipts so that I can collate them and verify them,” he wrote. “I need receipts as opposed to invoices, and for those items advised by the WA Electoral Commission and only those advised by the Electoral Commission. They are to be collated in an orderly manner (readable) with a Summary page with numbered items relating to the associated receipt with the number marked on it. As a party we process only one request for funding so consequently all candidates need to get their paperwork in to me (including you) ASAP.”

In that email, Baraiolo reinforces her reluctance to agree to the party taking any part of her funding. “To reiterate and confirm our conversation Monday 22nd May 2017 at 1.28pm Perth time I told you several times that I did not and would not agree in any way shape or form to PHON taking ANY percentage of my electoral refund back,” Baraiolo states.

And the response?

“Yes I have got that message and will look at that,” Smith says. “When I receive your receipts.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 15, 2017 as "Funding games".

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Tom Ravlic is an investigative journalist and specialist in business regulation.