Members of Parliament revising campaign finance reports
Vanhanen insists he was unaffected by campaign funding
The main government parties, the Centre and the National Coalition Party, have both urged their Members of Parliament to revise their campaign finance reports from last year's Parliamentary election. The calls came as public debate intensified both in the media and in Parliament over campaign finances and the need to reform legislation on the matter.
National Coalition Party leader, Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen says that those who “feel a need” to add to their reports, should do it by Friday noon.
The aim is also to look at donations received by support organisations set up behind individual candidates.
Katainen said that he got his party to spend considerable sums of money on his campaign, donated in part by the Kehittyvien maakuntien Suomi organisation, and Helsingin Mekaanikontalo Oy. The former is linked with a number of business figures, including Toivo Sukari, an entrepreneur involved in the proposed Ideapark shopping complex in Vihti, while the latter is led by investor Ahti Vilppula.
Katainen insisted that the backers have never tried to influence his political decisions.
Katainen was substituting for Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) at Parliamentary question time on Thursday, when the issue was raised by Social Democratic Party leader Eero Heinäluoma.
Katainen emphasised that political donations from trade unions or companies cannot be considered improper, because without external financing, only the very rich would have a chance of being elected to Parliament.
The uproar was sparked by Centre Party MP Timo Kalli, who admitted that he had violated the law on the disclosure of campaign financing.
On Thursday, Kalli told his party’s Parliamentary Group about the financing of his election campaign, and admitted that he had been incautious, and regretted the mistake. The party’s parliamentarians decided to keep Kalli in his position as chairman of the Parliamentary group.
The Centre also approved a recommendation to its MPs that they should re-examine their campaign financing, and check on the figures submitted to the Ministry of Justice, according to current legislation.
The Centre Party group did not discuss the support that Prime Minister Vanhanen had received from Sukari, the brains behind the Ideapark project. Vanhanen came out in support of Ideapark in his blog on Saturday.
Vanhanen’s campaign manager Jari Flinck said on Thursday that he had decided to accept the donation of EUR 10,000 from the organisation during the Parliamentary election campaign. Before the decision, Flinck examined the composition of the organisation’s governing body, and its by-laws.
Both Flinck and Vanhanen denied knowledge of who the main financiers of the association were.
“If I feel that an association is acting sincerely, and with good purposes, I see no need to start digging for something for which they might be caught”, Flinck said.
Vanhanen says that he concluded that there would have been dozens of donors. In his view, the money did not influence his decisions.
“I find such suspicions inappropriate. This has no effect on my views on community structures or developing services”, he wrote.
On Thursday, Sukari denied in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat that there had been any quid pro quo. According to him, Members of Parliament did not necessarily know from whom they had received support. Sukari also emphasised that he does not decide on how the association spends its money.
“Matti Vanhanen supported Ideapark because of the issue itself, and not because I gave him support.”
Sukari said that he had backed more than 10 Members of Parliament from the National Coalition, Social Democratic, and Christian Democratic parties over a period of more than 20 years.
During the past week widespread support has been expressed within Finland’s political parties for changes in legislation on election campaign finance.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Vanhanen called for a ceiling of EUR 2,000-3,000 for individual contributions.
“The aim of this would be to reduce the amount of money spent on election campaigns. On the other hand, it would encourage candidates to seek assistance from more supporters.”
In addition, organisations that seek donations should give assurances to support groups for individual candidates that the money that they give does not include donations that exceed the ceilings.
More on this subject:
Kalli allowed to stay on as Centre Party group leader
Previously in HS International Edition:
Centre Party MṔs comments spark campaign finance row (15.5.2008)