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party financing

Moderates say yes to party financing reform

Published torsdag 19 april 2012 kl 15.19
"When you asked about money, there was silence"
(3:58 min)
The Moderates are far happier nowadays than in 2002. Photo: Conny Sillén/Scanpix
The Moderates are far happier nowadays than in 2002. Photo: Conny Sillén/Scanpix

Today, Moderate party secretary Sofia Arkelsten announced her party would start disclosing the names of its private donors. It comes after a long debate about lax Swedish laws on public disclosure of party financing, which has even earned it a reprimand from the EU.

Political reporter Anders Pihlblad spent the past few years researching how the Moderates clawed themselves back to power after their 2002 electoral defeat. And how they funded that comeback.

"Everyone has really enjoyed telling me their story, the change of the party, of the politics," he says.  "But when you talked about money... Suddenly they became very silent."

In Sweden, political parties receives state funding based on how many votes they receive in general elections. And that system has been in place to protect parties from undue influence and pressure.

So rewind to 2002, when the Moderates scraped together 15 percent of the vote and thereby faced a funding cut.

"People were so sad, some cried, they had this dance floor with a disco ball and only two girls were dancing. People just wanted to hide," Pihlblad says.

But what was election night like four years later?

"People were screaming, dancing, they were so happy."

Anders Pihlblad was curious about this comeback, and how they'd financed it. But no one would talk.

"The Moderates are the only party that has got a lot of money from private investors, as I call them," he says. "The money has been very important."

Sweden is one of few European countries without laws on public access to party financing. It puts it on a list that includes Malta and San Marino.

"We don't know who has given the money, so have can you even answer the question [if it affects a party's political platform], it's important citizens can access this information."

"For me it's hard to understand why it's so hard to understand that," says Pihlblad.

And it won't do, says the Council of Europe. For the past few years it has asked Sweden to evaluate its system. In 2009, it issued several recommendations for reforms.

By 2011, Sweden had responded that the low level of corruption in the country meant such a law was not a priority.

It referred to Transparency International's corruption index. However, that organisation is one voice calling for reform of party financing.

The Council of Europe's anti-corruption unit Greco responded that "Sweden falls short of the [recommended] standards on common rules against corruption."

Björn Janson works at Greco and says one recommendation was to introduce a ban on donations from unknown donors.

"In most other European countries there is legislation in this area and some form of monitoring," he says.

"Sweden is among the least regulated in the area of political financing," Janson adds.

Greco issued a slightly more upbeat evaluation this year because Sweden's political parties had begun discussing the question in ernest.

"We consider that there are some positive signs in Sweden," Janson says.

This morning's promise from Moderate party secretary Sofia Arkelsten is to allow access to the names of donors giving US$3,000 or more.

Other types of funding have also come under scrutiny. Since 1994, Swedish parties get extra money to reach out to voters. But that money comes with a caveat: part of it is earmarked to review the outreach.

In 2009, Gothenburg University was roped in for the task.

"Some of the parties denied us access to any kind of information to what they'd done with the money," says political scientist Stefan Dahlberg. "And by law they don't need to reveal it."

"I can say it was parties from our right-liberal government but I don't want to point to specific parties," he says.

"What I think is important here is that we have this law. It's very rare and when I speak to colleagues abroad they are really confused, and thinking 'How is it possible in a country like Sweden?'"

Ann Törnkvist
Radio Sweden

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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