RIBA president Paul Hyett has called for strict guidelines over the raising of sponsorship as architecture's heavyweights speak out against the practice. Hyett is demanding that presidential candidates reveal accounts of any cash raised through sponsorship, following news that Annette Fisher has been approaching firms within the construction industry for cash.
Hyett's concern was this week echoed by the RIBA's ex-presidents. David Rock urged the RIBA to ban candidates from raising money that way, saying it could compromise the independence of the presidency. And Owen Luder warned that the pursuit of sponsorship was a 'dangerous route' to go down, that could be seen as unacceptable by some and open up the president to accusations. In view of the revelations regarding Fisher, he called on the RIBA to 'grasp the nettle' and look at 'radical changes' that would allow the president to be paid:
'The only way to avoid these dangers is for the president to have an honorarium - this situation has made it something that really needs to be addressed.'
Rod Hackney, who said he would be supporting Ferguson, said Fisher would need to be strongminded to resist pressure from organisations sponsoring her. And ex-director general Alex Reid agreed that there was 'a real danger of the presidency being undermined'.
Hyett, outlining his proposals for guidelines, told the AJ: 'Political sponsorship is an issue that requires strict control. Money collected must be fully accounted for in terms of its source and use.
Both the sourcing and the application must be within ethically acceptable parameters. That is the bottom line. Any surplus must be utilised in the proper way - for example, gifted to a charity, and on completion of any campaign, full accounts should be published. In my opinion, any fundraising for campaigns should comply with these criteria, and I expect that as a result of events during this campaign, guidelines will be set for the future.
And he added: 'That said, no complaint has been made formally to me or the RIBA with respect to conduct of any candidate in the election.'
Ferguson and Fisher were both trying to claim the moral high ground this week. Ferguson denied he would be lodging a complaint against Fisher to the RIBA, and suggested: 'The electorate will make up their own minds.' However, he accused Fisher of being unprofessional, and said her sponsorship strategy 'raises some questions'.
Meanwhile, Fisher pledged to make public a full list of her backers once the campaign was over. She would not reveal it before, she said, as she suspected her opponents, Ferguson and David Thorp, would use the information to undermine her campaign.
Fisher, who is relying on the campaign advice of Wordsearch's Peter Murray, admitted approaching a number of developers for backing including Crest Nicholson - the company pitted against Ferguson during his fight to block Arup Associates Harbourside scheme. But she appealed: 'I don't want my platform to be hung on this issue.'
Meanwhile, Marco Goldschmied distanced himself from Fisher, denying suggestions that he would be bankrolling her presidency. 'I have not made any commitment, ' he said. If he contributes to her campaign fund, it will simply be to 'level the playing field' and did not mean he was exclusively backing Fisher to win.
Calls for a paid presidency could be in vain, however. RIBA membership secretary Peter Trebilcock told the AJ that because of the strict rules governing charitable trusts, the RIBA would not be able to consider the move. In a report to be presented to council on 15 May, Trebilcock concludes that to pay the post would require the organisation to give up its charitable status or for the president to relinquish his role as a trustee.