Can political parties contract their election campaigns from their preferred advertising company, or should they issue public tenders and let the best advertisers win? What would happen if one company won the contracts to run campaigns for multiple parties? These questions were asked today by the Estonian daily newspaper Postimees, in article revealing that political parties have been in violation of the law for years, never having issued public tenders for major contracts.
According to Estonian law, NGOs who receive more than 50% of their income from public funds, such as the state budget, public endowments or the EU, should call for tender when undertaking major contracts. Estonian political parties have never done that, yet they have all been registered as non-profit organizations, thus falling under the purview of the law.
The parties freely admit to this practice and ask in return: what would happen if, say in an open tender for running an electoral campaign, an advertising agency known for running campaigns for a competing party was to win the bid? Or worse yet, what if one advertising company won several bids for several different parties? These are some problems that, according to party secretaries, arise when attempting to follow the law to the letter.
However, party secretaries have admitted to the existence of the problem, as political parties should be obliged to follow the law to the same extent as other NGOs and everyone agrees that public funding should be, by nature, transparent. However, proposed solutions differ. For instance, Priit Toobal, secretary general for the Centre Party suggested changing the public procurement act, to allow for exceptions; Kristen Michal (Reform Party) and Kalvi Kõva (Social Democratic Party) independently suggested that parties should also consider running campaigns using only money acquired through donations.
Estonian political parties receive operating grants from the state budget, with additional funding allocated to parties represented in the parliament, based on the number of delegates. In general, the state pays out about 500,000 euros to political parties every year.