What started as a throw-away comment on a Finnish talk show has turned into a political funding scandal and left a smear on the Nordic country that cherishes its reputation as one of the world’s cleanest, open and most transparent societies.
Timo Kalli, chairman of the Centre party, which dominates Finland’s four-party, right-leaning coalition government, casually revealed he knowingly broke the law after failing to reveal who had made donations to his election campaign in 2007.
Finnish party funding laws state politicians must reveal the source of their donations, but oddly contain no sanctions for those who fail to do so.
Mr Kalli was by no means the only parliamentarian taking advantage of the lax legislation. Shame-faced politicians, including ministers of state, have been forced to step forward almost daily to state they did the same thing.
“The law does not sanction the crime in any way,” said a frustrated Kimmo Grönlund, professor of political science at the University of Turku in western Finland. “We all said it wouldn’t work.”
The affair has also ensnared Mr Vanhanen, leader of the Centre party, who received a donation from a business group called KMS but said he had no idea he had received it and no idea what KMS was.
It has transpired KMS was established in the Centre party’s own headquarters. Things took a turn for the worse after it emerged KMS was backing the building of a shopping centre called Ideapark outside Helsinki, the capital, and that Mr Vanhanen had briefly mentioned that Ideapark would be a good thing in a blog.
There is, as yet, no proof of any corruption by any of the politicians involved, but the relaxed attitude of lawmakers to the law is undermining public confidence in politicians in general, and Mr Vanhanen’s administration in particular.
For Mr Vanhanen, the scandal was the last thing he needed. The unmarried prime minister has been struggling to stave off criticism of his lively private life, which has been spiced up with a kiss-and-tell book from a former girlfriend. “His curve is downwards,” said Göran Djuplund, a politics professor at the University of Turku.
In this febrile
atmosphere, emboldened leftwing opposition parties are calling
for a general election to clear the air.
But the questions remain of why such shadowy legislation was drawn up in the first place by a country so committed to transparency and why it was not reformed sooner.
Funding scandal taints Finland’s reputation