Election candidates mum on donor identities

Many say it is problematic that parties can retroactively reveal donor identities so voters won’t know who donated what until months after next week’s elections

The vast majority of the mayoral candidates in the upcoming local elections become skittish when asked to reveal which companies and private sponsors have donated to their campaigns.

A survey by Berlingske newspaper showed that just five of 23 candidates from the nation’s ten largest councils were willing to reveal who had contributed to their campaign coffers.

Copenhagen's mayor, Frank Jensen (S), said that he wouldn’t reveal who had backed him because he didn’t know if his backers wanted that information shared publicly. Pia Allerslev (V), the deputy mayor for culture and leisure and Jensen's primary opponent for the mayor's office, also refused.

“I have a scalable budget between 500,000 and one million kroner and I do not wish to reveal who has supported me,” Allerslev told Berlingske.

READ MORE: Councils hiding party donors

A democratic issue
The party financing law from 1995 dictates that every year, political parties must reveal the names of private donors who have donated more than 20,000 kroner. But the parties can reveal the names retroactively. When it comes to the November 19 elections, donors don't need to be revealed until March 2014, months after voters have cast their ballots.

And that is a democratic problem, according to Ove Kal Pedersen, a professor at the Department of Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School.

“All these delaying tactics from the politicians’ side undermines the credibility of the individual politician in the eyes of the voter,” Pedersen told Berlingske.

READ MORE: Party financing rules to be overhauled

A fine line between sponsorship and bribery
Pedersen was supported by Roger Buch, a researcher from the media and journalism school, Danmarks Medie- og Journalisthøjskole, who argued that there was a fine line between political sponsorship and bribery.

“Receiving support from someone is not necessarily a problem, but transparency is required so that the public can see who supports whom in order to see whether the politicians tailor their messages to their clients,” Buch told Berlingske.

There are a number of loopholes in place that parties use to hide the names of their financial backers at the council level

Venstre in trouble
The party financing issue came to a head this week after it was revealed that Venstre had failed to report a donation of more than 20,000 kroner from industry association Industriens Arbejdsgivere i København during the party's local election campaign in 2009.

Allerslev, who was also the party's lead candidate then, apologised this morning, calling it an unfortunate error.

“The council should have been notified of the money, but that didn’t happen. The money was donated to a local Venstre association consisting of some volunteers who didn’t realise that they had to report it,” Allerslev told Berlingske. “It’s a mistake and, naturally, I take responsibility for it.”

Allerslev went on to say that Venstre would not be paying back the donation because it was used during the 2009 election campaign.

In June, the left-wing party Enhedslisten argued that private donations to political parties should be more transparent, pointing to a study by Ugebrevet A4 that revealed that private political donations rose from around 49.7 million kroner in 2005 to 82.3 million kroner in 2011.