Center appealing to members to help make €850,000 penalty payment

Center Party headquarters in Tallinn.
Center Party headquarters in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Center Party has appealed to members to help it out in repaying money which a court ruled constituted an illegal donation.

The party still has a further €350,000 to find, in order to make the payment and avoid a precept from the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK), after already pooling half-a-million euros via austerity measures, donations and membership fees.

Center's Secretary General Andre Hanimägi said that: "Everyone understands the party's situation, and the fact that the verdict must be complied with. I believe that in the next ERJK report, we will see Center Party members who will have come to the rescue of the party."

"We have already worked very hard to make cost savings in the past year, but we have also asked party members to pay their membership fee in advance, or to make donations," Hanimägi continued.

MPs, government ministers, local government leaders and local councilors have also all been approached, in addition to the party rank and file, Hanimägi said.

Center's economic affairs minister Taavi Aas told ERR that the ruling will also impact the party's general election campaign.

Appearing on ERR's politics webcast "Otse uudistemajast" Wednesday, Aas said that: "With regard to the payments, we have been preparing for it for a long time and will be capable of making it."

The general election takes place March 5 2023.

The cuts had already affected the October 2021 local election, when Center's campaign was smaller than in previous elections, while party members stumped up more than those of any of Center's competitors, Hanimägi said.

Center's own statutes require monthly support from MPs and ministers, and the proposal now is this be paid two to three months in advance, which in the case of a minister could amount to a lump sum of around €1,500.

State support will also be forthcoming two months from now, he added, which means that a "very large part" of the penalty can be paid off.

Should membership fees not be forthcoming, the party has ways and means provided for within its statutes of "punishing" those who don't comply.

"However, I hope we don't reach that stage," he added.

If the party falls short of the total amount it has been penalized, i.e. €850,000, X said, a further penalty may follow, though the ERJK is likely to recognize efforts the party has made to try to pay it off, he said.

Center was ordered to return €850,000 to PR agency Midfield, on the grounds it constituted an illegal donation, following an appeal at the Supreme Court.

Midfield had worked on Center's election campaign 2009-2015 but insufficient invoicing or other paperwork had accompanied that work, the ERJK found.

While half-a-million has so far been found by both cutting costs and getting donations, the party still needs to find €350,000 to be returned to Midfield.

Bank loans are not ruled out, Hanimägi added, though none have been concluded yet.

If all Center's 25 MPs and seven government ministers put in three-to-four months' membership fees, this would still amount to less than €50,000, ERR reports. The party took in well over half-a-million euros in donations last year, though many of the larger of these were from non-members, leaving state subsidies perhaps the most likely source for Center to make up the shortfall.

State support is provided to larger political parties in proportion to their representation at the Riigikogu.

Center took in €341,926 per quarter in state support last year, or €1,367,704 for the whole year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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