Centre Party Secretary Korhonen under pressure in campaign finance furore
With less than a year to go before the next Parliamentary elections, there is increasing concern within the Parliamentary group of the Centre Party over develoments in the furore over funding for the previous election campaign. The party’s MPs are discussing the issue on Thursday at a group meeting.
On Wednesday, voices in the group laid the blame largely on the party’s central office and specifically on Party Secretary Jarmo Korhonen.
Words like “unsustainable” were used to describe Korhonen’s situation, as sentiment was rising in favour of his departure.
One of the doubters was the group’s deputy chairman Seppo Kääriäinen, who did not mention Korhonen by name, but the meaning was clear.
“Only by renewing the entire party leadership is it possible to cut off the negative spiral, and the party leadership is a group of five”, he said. The five comprise the party’s chair, three deputy chairpersons, and the party secretary.
Many in the Centre Party see Korhonen as the main culprit in the party’s election finance mess.
MP Mika Lintilä said that the upcoming Centre Party congress will have to evaluate the role of the party office in connection with the affair, if Korhonen is a candidate. “That is, if Korhonen is a candidate”, he emphasised.
The Parliamentary group’s chairman Timo Kalli put the ball in the court of the party office, because Korhonen was both the head of the election campaign and the one who collected the money.
“The group has no role in this. Only the Party Secretary does”, Kalli says.
One indication of the nervousness surrounding the situation is that a so-called “plan B” was discussed, which means that anything might happen.
It has even been suggested that Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen might have to quit the party leadership already before the upcoming party congress. This might happen if pressure against him were to snowball, and new revelations were to emerge. Minister of the Environment Paula Lehtomäki is the name that was put forward as a possible provisional prime minister.
This is not a very likely scenario however. There was also talk of a premature departure for Korhonen.
On Wednesday Helsingin Sanomat reported that Vanhanen agreed to throw a party for the main election campaign contributors soon after the 2007 elections. He also agreed to take part in a ceremony marking the laying of a cornerstone of a new storage building of the Tokmanni retail chain, which was a major contributor to the campaign.
After the election, Vanhanen received a message of gratitude from campaign contributor Arto Merisalo, which contained the names of all contributors in the KMS association, formed to organise funding for candidates of their liking.
Vanhanen says that gratitude toward the contributors was not the reason why he took part in the Tokmanni cornerstone ceremony in May 2007.
“I got many bouquets and messages. If we assume that I have registered in my mind a list of names that I am supposed to remember a year later, then unfortunately, I have no such recollection”, Vanhanen said.
Vanhanen attributed the familiar tone of the exchange of messages to the fact that he likes to be informal in his communications.
Korhonen, who was reached in Brussels on Wednesday, will not say if revelations concerning the party’s head of communications Lasse Kontiola were news to him.
Helsingin Sanomat revealed on Wednesday that Kontiola dealt with KMS cash flows in 2007 over a much longer time than he had revealed before.
Korhonen said that he had discussed the Kontiola case on Wednesday with both Kontiola himself and with Vanhanen. The Kontiola revelations are to be discussed within the Centre Party once officials complete their report on the matter.
“I do not want to make the work of the officials more difficult at this phase”, Korhonen said.
Korhonen says that the Centre Party has disclosed all donations to the very last euro ever since 2005.
“Now only details have come out. The party certainly has asked for money, and has been involved in election campaigning. Some of it [the money] has ended up in the coffers of Helsingin Sanomat.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Vanhanen thanked Merisalo for assistance soon after 2007 election (14.4.2010)
Vanhanen refuses to accept sole responsibility for election funding row (28.9.2009)
Police investigation suggests Tiura lobbied on behalf of election campaign donors (13.4.2010)