Party finances 2019: Membership falling, only EKRE not in debt

A Riigikogu sitting.
A Riigikogu sitting. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Four of Estonia's five parliamentary parties have issued their 2019 financial reports, with both Center and Reform seeing a fall in membership fees, and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) being the only one to not report debts. 2019 was a double election year, meaning parties' spending, including on advertising and staff, was higher and in most cases will have fallen for 2020.

Of the four parties to report their 2019 finances so far, two are in office (Center and EKRE) and two in opposition (Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE).

Center reported €2.3 million in revenue, for 2019, though is in the red to the tune of €265,000, down from €806,000 the year before.  The party was hit by a decline in membership fees, which fell by more than half over last year.

EKRE is one of the few parties represented at the Riigikogu that has reported no debts, and says is already raising money for the next elections (local elections in 2021-ed.). It snapped up a little over a million euros in revenue in 2019, the bulk of it from donations and the state subsidy parties are eligible for in proportion to their size and Riigikogu representation, with €16,000 coming from membershup dues and €13,000 from party investments and business.

EKRE was involved in several lawsuits last year, which brought it reported legal costs of €34,000, a figure it calls significant.

Reform reported negative equity of €430,000 for 2019 and says it plans to bring this into the black this year. The party took in €2.5 million, of which €1.7 million came from state support.

SDE also had debts last year and says it wants to repay these in time for next year's local elections. The party look out two loans from Estonian bank LHV to cover the costs of the two 2019 election campaigns – the general election in March, and May's European elections, where it put up by far the most popular candidate by votes (Marina Kaljurand). The two loans total €550,000, with the repayment deadline being 2021, and which it hopes to clear ahead of the local elections in October of the same year.

Party finances breakdown for 2019

Center (Leader: Jüri Ratas)

  • €2.3 million revenue (€846,000 donations, €1.4 million state subsidy).
  • Membership fees: €30,000 (compared with €64,500 for 2019; the party says it has already collected €41,000 in membership dues for this year so far).
  • €1.1 million spent on advertising (€425,000 on TV, €259,000 on outdoor and €229,000 online).
  • 25 full-time staff, costing €381,000 in wages.
  • Other expenses included €11,000 interest repayments, €40,400 after being hit by a precept by the Party Financial Surveillance Committee (ERJK), and €26,000 as a court-mandated penalty.

EKRE (Leader (in 2019): Mart Helme)

  • €843,000 in state subsidy, €150,000 donations.
  • Increased membership by 64 individuals, though proportion of fee-paying members dropped.
  • Membership dues down to €15,900, from €17,300 the previous year. No debt.
  • Spent €735,000 on advertising, less than SDE (€1.1 million) who won no Riigikogu seats, and Center (same figure) who are in office with EKRE.
  • Spent €70,000 on events.
  • Party has just one full-time employee. €32,500 spent in labor costs; other cots included maintaining its website "Uued uudised" and newspaper "Konservatiivide Vaba Sõna".

Reform (Leader: Kaja Kallas)

  • MPs rose from 30 to 34 after the March 2019 general election, making it the largest party by parliamentary seats, but found itself locked out of coalition negotiations and is now in opposition.
  • Won two European Parliament seats (Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet).
  • Took in close to €690,000 in donations, compared with €326,000 the year before.
  • Earned €9,000 from the sale of party marketing paraphernalia.
  • Membership down from 12,151 to 11,774. Membership fees totalled €12,000, compared with €28,000 the year before.
  • Plans to bring accounts into a positive through the course of this year, largely due to boosted state subsidy resulting from being the largest party by Riigikogu representation. State support will be €1.8 million for 2020.

SDE (Leader: Jevgeni Ossinovski (to June 2019); Indrek Saar)

  •  Revenue of €1.1 million, split about 50-50 between state subsidies and donations.
  • Collected a total of €18,600 in membership fees during the year. Had 5,453 members at year end, down 237 on the previous year.
  • Took two loans (see above) but went from 15 Riigikogy seats to 10 at the March 2019 general election, meaning the state subsidy fell for this year (last year's figure stood at €804,000).
  • Loan liabilities of €471,200; plans to pay off €320,000 of that this year and another €151,500 the next.
  • Employed 15 people full-time in 2019 – election year – with 10 now working there. Wages fell from €364,000 to €295,000 as a result.

Finances for the remaining coalition party (Isamaa) and the four main non-parliamentary parties (Estonia 200, Estonian Greens, Richness of Life, the Free Party) have yet to be reported.

EKRE's legal costs included a suit brought against it by former MEP Indrek Tarand, who claimed the party had made false allegations about him following a scuffle at a protest on Toompea in late 2018. The other legal cases involve two individuals protesting their expulsion from the party, and a dispute with an NGO involved in video production.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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