Election funding generates controversy among social partners

Controversy over the funding of the election campaigns of Finland’s political parties has resulted in a serious political crisis. The major right-wing political parties have received notable donations from the TT Foundation of the Confederation of Finnish Industry, whereas the left-wing parties received substantial funding from the trade unions. Owing to the controversy, calls have been issued for the parliament’s dissolution and for a premature election.

In recent months, the issue of election funding has generated massive controversy in Finland. Several companies and foundations have been involved in hidden election funding. The major right-wing parties, the Centre Party (Suomen Keskusta) and the National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus), have received notable donations for their election campaigns in recent years from the TT Foundation (formerly the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (Teollisuuden ja Työnantajain Keskusliitto, TT) FI0403201N) of the Confederation of Finnish Industry (Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto, EK). Meanwhile, the trade unions have openly supported the left-wing parties. The problems and hidden facts relating to election funding have even resulted in calls for the parliament’s dissolution and for a premature election.

Details of controversy

Funding to right-wing parties

At the core of the debate has been the Centre Party, led by Finland’s Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen. The party has received donations for its election campaigns in recent years from the TT Foundation, as well as from a controversial real estate services company, the Nova Group, and from businessmen. The Centre Party has amassed about €2 million in campaign donations in the past three years.

Prime Minister Vanhanen insisted that he had spoken with a representative of the TT Foundation before the donation was made and that he had also approved of the donation. The prime minister added that while he was aware of the approximate size of the election support, he did not know the exact sums of money involved.

EK’s TT Foundation also donated €150,000 to the National Coalition Party. A spokesperson for the TT Foundation, Johannes Koroma, stated that the foundation has donated money to promote training in financial policy when parties have asked for it.

The three large political parties the National Coalition Party, the Centre Party and the Social Democratic Party (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue, SDP) have also received significant funding from state-owned enterprises.

Alongside the election funding controversy, a personal allegation was raised against Prime Minister Vanhanen in a television programme of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), claiming that he had accepted free building materials for his house.

Funding to left-wing parties raises suspicions

At least four foundations with close ties to the political left-wing parties have funded political action, although such activities are not defined in their by-laws as being part of their purpose.

The SDP has confirmed that it received over €750,000 in support from the trade unions. The party’s biggest trade union supporter in the parliamentary election campaign of 2007 was the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (Julkisten ja hyvinvointialojen liitto, JHL), affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK); JHL donated a sum of €113,000 to the party. The second biggest contributor to the SDP was the SAK-affiliated Finnish Metalworkers’ Union (Metallityöväen Liitto), which donated more than €100,000. They were followed by the SAK-affiliated Service Union United (Palvelualojen ammattiliitto, PAM), which contributed almost €77,000 to the SDP.

While the SDP received more than €750,000 in support from trade union sources, the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) got about €110,000 from the unions. The largest backers of the Left Alliance in 2007 were as follows: the SAK-affiliated Finnish Construction Trade Union (Rakennusliitto), which donated €16,000; the Finnish Metalworkers’ Union, which contributed €15,000; and JHL, which donated a sum of €11,000 to the alliance.

Commentary

The controversy over election funding in Finland has resulted in a deep political crisis in the country. Such issues have received considerable public attention in Finland – a country that has long been described in international surveys as one of the least corrupt nations in the world.

The surprising factor is not that the political parties have received significant funding, but that they have hidden the source of this funding and that the issue has only gradually come to light. The crisis was first initiated when one leading member of parliament (MP) of the Centre Party openly admitted to having received substantial funds from businesses for his election campaign but refused to declare where the money had come from. Even though it is illegal to do so, there are no sanctions against such practices, the MP concluded. Therefore, the MP openly admitted to having broken the law.

In the beginning, the row involved the government versus the opposition parties. However, it was later found that MPs of the SDP had received funding from ambiguous sources. The centre-right government has therefore defended itself, arguing that the left-wing parties had received money from the trade unions and were therefore not in a position to criticise anyone for illegal funding.

Owing to the controversy, Finland’s political scene has come to a standstill and there has been considerable talk about new elections. Nonetheless, at the beginning of October 2009, the government won a clear victory in a vote of confidence over political funding in parliament.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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