One of the three parties making up Norway’s left-center government, the small Center Party, became the first in the country’s history to be fined over campaign funding violations. Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete and her colleagues won’t contest the fine of NOK 200,000 (USD 33,000), large by Norwegian standards.
Navarsete’s future as leader of the party, which has only claimed around 4 percent of the vote in some recent public opinion polls, remained in doubt. Even some former government colleagues in an earlier center-right coalition suggested she should resign or at least evaluate her position, with Per-Kristian Foss of the Conservatives saying that would be “the natural thing to do” in such a situation.
Others, however, felt Navarsete and the party may survive the funding scandal. Navarsete has accepted responsibility, cooperated with the police investigation into it and avoided being indicted herself.
The fine was announced Friday by Norway’s economic crimes unit Økokrim, which has been investigating the Center Party since last fall. Problems for the party emerged when newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that money paid into party coffers by some publicly owned power companies to fund renewable energy projects instead was used to help fund the party’s reelection campaign.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that in addition to the relatively heavy fine against the party, both its former secretary general, Ivar Egeberg, and its external communications adviser, Ole G Hertzenberg, were each fined NOK 50,000. Hertzenberg also has accepted the fine for violating campaing accounting laws.
Navarsete claimed again on Friday that both she and the party were taking the fine seriously and admitted the case had been a burden on the party and its leadership.
She made no indication that she’ll resign as a result of the embarrassing punishment of a political party, though, instead telling NRK that she felt she had the confidence of party members and that the trouble had “brought the party together” in a show of support. She said she was “proud” of the party’s “culture” of banding together in a crisis.
Navarsete had, however, been the target of harsh criticism by a parliamentary committee, because she knew about the controversial funding and failed to tell her government colleagues about it, either those within the Center Party or outside it. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has tried to stay out of the fray, waiting for the criminal investigation to conclude, but he can’t be happy that one of the parties in the coalition he leads attracted such an investigation, and a fine.