Party finance watchdog to look into details of SAPTK film financing, flyers

Varro Vooglaid at a rally in Tallinn against the Registered Partnership Act. November 24, 2015.
Varro Vooglaid at a rally in Tallinn against the Registered Partnership Act. November 24, 2015. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Political Party Funding Supervision Committee (ERJK) is slated to look into whether the Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition (SAPTK) may have possibly made a prohibited advertising donation in distributing flyers and funding a film that featured candidates in the 2023 Riigikogu elections and promoted the worldview of specific political parties.

On March 1, SAPTK released a short film about the meaning of marriage and family. Election watchers from the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO) suspect that this was part of an election campaign and thus a prohibited donation. The film's key figures, for example, were Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) candidates Varro Vooglaid, Markus Järvi and Martin Helme.

"It seemed to the election watchers that SAPTK's short film, in which several people running in the elections themselves took part and could be seen on screen, a week before the elections is still part of a campaign," said NENO executive director Kai Klandorf.

SAPTK board chair Varro Vooglaid rejected the claim. According to Vooglaid, SAPTK had planned the short film in question last summer already, and sought funding for it from supporters of the foundation, which many provided. Something then came up, however, and the making of the film was delayed a bit longer than expected.

"I actually wanted to do this in the fall already, and then we finally got it done at the start of the year," Vooglaid said. "Its release before the elections was honestly a complete coincidence, but even if it hadn't been, and even if we had intentionally [released] it before the elections, then there is absolutely nothing unlawful about it."

At the same time as the film was released, flyers appeared in voters' mailboxes urging them not to vote in the Riigikogu elections for parties who support marriage equality between people of the same gender.

In Estonia, donations to political parties by legal persons are prohibited by law under the Political Parties Act, and SAPTK is a legal person.

NENO wants the ERJK to investigate whether the foundation has provided prohibited free advertising to party candidates operating under it and with its money contributed to the achievement of party goals, using similar talking points and polarizing tactics.

"In that sense, if an NGO wants to contribute and influence elections, that is very much welcome," Klandorf explained. "But how one participates and how they contribute should be reasoned, it should be substantive and cannot be polarizing."

According to Vooglaid, civic organizations have the right to stand up for their ideological beliefs.

"If anyone tries to treat the making or release of this family-themed film by us or the materials distributed by us as some sort of covert donation, then that is entirely arbitrary and unfounded," he said.

The ERJK is scheduled to convene Friday to analyze the financing of the short film and flyers in question. Committee chair Liisa Oviir said she did not wish to comment on the matter ahead of this analysis.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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