The Alliance Society candidate company attempted to charge American interns up to $1,500 to travel to Northern Ireland to volunteer for the campaign.
Counsellor Patrick Brown gave Americans internships on “valuable professional experience” for the 2019 local government campaign.
The Facebook posts mention a three-week stay for “only $1,500 per person” including visa, accommodation, and airport transfers.
The program was promoted by a company Mr. Brown founded called Politrip, which organizes volunteers for international political campaigns.
The coalition party said it had “provided a full and adequate account of all the expenses of the Scripolo campaign and that “the campaign personnel whose Navy stipends were not recruited or hired”.
It comes after the coalition faced publicity criticism for hiring dozens of unpaid and low-paid foreign trainees to work on My Stormont’s election campaign.
The announcement was made ahead of the assembly elections, offering “career development opportunities” to up to 65 people outside Northern Ireland.
Five positions offered a 300 yen scholarship per week plus travel and accommodations in Northern Ireland, but most of the roles were unpaid.
Southern Social Democratic Party spokesman Colin McGrath called it a “fatal mistake”.
The coalition said it has since decided to decline the offer of paid training, but that a mix of “volunteers” from the UK, Europe and the US will help with its campaign.
An Alliance branding ad similar to Politrip posts appeared, using the same image from Newcastle on Co Down, with the caption: “How would you like to campaign here?”
Some of the Polytrip’s Facebook posts for the council elections included the mobile phone number of Mr. Brown, a coalition assembly candidate for the South Down region.
Archived Polytrip advertised the placement at a lower price of $1,000, saying that it covers costs, including “international round-trip flights.”
Volunteers will be with ‘supporters of local parties’, the price includes ‘connect phones/tablets and mobile data to facilitate field visits’ and ‘all entrance fees and ticket costs for cultural activities’.
The Newry Morne Board and Down Board were asked to provide a copy of a candidate’s spending and donation records for the 2019 election to see what has been announced.
However, the board said it only stores the information for 12 months.
A spokesperson for the coalition party said in a statement: “The coalition has fully and duly considered all campaign costs for the local government.
“There are no costs, reasonable or otherwise, associated with the proper use of self-financed volunteers in the countryside.
“Navy Payroll Campaign personnel were not recruited or used by the coalition during the local government campaign.
“Politrip is a separate company, not a consortium, and it never has been. Mr. Brown was the previous owner, but he sold it in 2021.
“Any questions regarding the work of Politrip or the cost of political education packages should be raised with them directly.”
Mr. Brown is listed as the sole director of Politrip in the Companies House, which states that the company is in liquidation. The Politrip brand was acquired by another company last year.
A Polytrip spokesperson said: “Volunteer USA Ltd. on the Polytrip trade name and related intellectual property in September 2021.
“Any questions regarding the operations of Polytrip Ltd. should be directed to the owners of that company before this date.”
He said the activity gives young people the opportunity to gain “hands-on experience in political campaigns, travel and learn about different political cultures”.
He added: “We do not have an official partnership with any political party, we do not give any funding to any party and we do not get our salaries.”
“Volunteer time is not an election expense that must be reported and Polytrip will always conduct an appropriate investigation and seek legal advice before offering any travel to ensure compliance with local election laws.”
The Electoral Commission says that the spending and donation rules for candidates for the Sacrapolis election include expenses incurred for their election during the regulated period.
The spokesperson said: “Volunteering time should not be included in the reimbursement and there is no donation.
“When a volunteer pays for travel and accommodation and is not reimbursed, it is not considered a campaign expense.
“When a candidate or other person guarantees free use of their main living space, that doesn’t apply to the rules anyway.”
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