COMMENTARY: The deception of “refunding” election contributions
By Pekka Vuoristo
One politician and another, caught for keeping election campaign funding received from companies, have decided to return the money. First to set the tone was the Centre Party’s Timo Kalli and most recently, Social Democrat Matti Ahde has said that he has pulled the same stunt.
Naturally, this is all nonsensical. Let’s examine Ahde’s way of thinking first. He said that when the campaign funding controversy broke out, he had two possibilities: either to add more information to his funding disclosure, or return the money. How does that work?
First of all, if it was not actually a bribe, then the money has been perfectly legal, and receiving it was also completely legal. If that is the case, then why should it be paid back?
Second, the violation is not in accepting legal money, but in unlawfully failing to report it. This violation is not wiped away by paying it back.
Third, the MP has used the money, and with its help, has been elected to Parliament. This will also not go away by paying the equivalent sum of money back to the donor. Therefore, it is deceptive to speak of “paying back” anything.
Fourth, talking about “supplementing” the election campaign funding disclosure is an exercise in sugar-coating the truth. The deadline for the disclosures was in May last year, and whatever was not disclosed at that time, was not disclosed.
It is certainly true that the law has been vague (which is the fault of the Members of Parliament themselves), and it has been interpreted in different ways. Undoubtedly someone may have quite innocently neglected to itemise some sums of money. However, one does not have to listen to the excuses that have been put forward for a very long time to understand that such cases do not constitute a majority among those who are offering explanations.
Timo Kalli and Matti Ahde have let it be understood that they are “returning” the money in order to clear their consciences. But how is a person’s conscience supposed to be cleansed by sending money to some stinking-rich businessmen’s association?
In one online discussion forum there was a good proposal for those who want to purify their consciences in this matter: donate an equivalent sum to a good cause - a disaster fund, development cooperation, environmental protection, war veterans - whatever feels closest.
This is something that all of those suffering the pangs of a guilty conscience can do until the next elections offer an opportunity to try lawful methods.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 8.6.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
Members of Parliament revising campaign finance reports (17.5.2008)
Centre Party MP´s comments spark campaign finance row (15.5.2008)
News that Matti Ahde also got KMS money colours SDP party congress (6.6.2008)
Prime Minister warns of political crisis stemming from election campaign money affair (21.5.2008)
PEKKA VUORISTO / Helsingin Sanomat