Thursday, February 03, 2005

Time to ban corporate, union political donations

VICTORIA - It's time to clean up political fundraising in B.C.
That's not an attack on business, or unions, or any political party. It's simply stating the obvious. No matter what the politicians think, most voters believe that the people who write big cheques to political parties get special access and privileges in return.
Elections BC has just released its latest report on political donations, covering the first 10 months of last year.
The Liberals did well, pulling in more than $5 million, twice as much as the NDP. About 70 per cent of the Liberals' donations came from corporate and business donors.
Individuals came up with about $1.5 million, but when it came to grassroots support - people who donated less than $250 - the Liberals got only $350,000 from 8,600 people.
The NDP, despite the Liberals' frequent attempts to paint the party as under the thumb of big labour, got 80 per cent of its money from individuals. Only $360,000 came from unions. And more than half the NDP's money came from 29,000 individuals who donated less than $250. (The Greens raised $63,000.)
The Liberals' position, like the New Democrats when they were in government, is that the current system is fine. All donations must be disclosed, so the public can see if big donors get special favours.
There is an argument that corporations and unions - acting on behalf of shareholders and members - have a right to try and put up cash to help the party that they think will best serve their interests.
But the arguments against corporate and union donations have become overwhelming.
Last year's fund-raising reports show the BC Automobile Dealers' Association donated almost $60,000 to the Liberals. EnCana gave $42,000, Weyerhaeuser $27,340 and TimberWest $23,000.
Jimmy Pattison, through his various companies, donated $55,000, and Gary Collins' new employer David Ho came up with $80,000.
On the left side of the ledger, the BC Federation of Labour gave $133,000, the BCGEU $85,000 and Hospital Employees' Union about $59,000.
Those are all big cheques. And most peoples' life experience has convinced them that people who write big cheques get special attention. A study done in 2000 found almost 90 per cent of Canadians believed "people with money have a lot of influence over the government."
Both the Liberals and NDP think so too. Liberals say the NDP is in the pocket of its big union donors; the New Democrats say big corporate donors have huge influence over the Campbell party.
They agree that big donations bring special influence.
So does the public, and that breeds cynicism and distance from the political process.
There are alternatives. Manitoba has already banned corporate and union donations, and limited individual donations to $3,000. Quebec has taken similar steps.
Federally, the Chretien government banned union and corporate donations and limited individual contributions to $5,000. Instead, each year parties get $1.75 per vote they received in the last election - about $9 million a year for the LIberals, down to $1 million for the Greens.
The federal system is flawed, mainly because the funding levels are far too generous. Part of the goal of any reform should be to halt the trend that has seen politics turn into a big money business, and try to return to the time when it was built on community support and a clash of ideas. Paul Martin raised $12 million for his bid for the Liberal leadership, an indicator that only people with strong big business connections should hope to be head the party.
Gordon Campbell is opposed to change in the current funding system. Carole James says the NDP would ban both corporate and union donations.
The public should push to make this an election issue, and demand that the Liberals commit to change, or at least to refer the question to another citizens' assembly.
The public believes big money has corrupted our politics. That demands action.
Footnote: Money isn't everything. The Liberals spent $150,000 - almost twice as much as the NDP - in losing the Surrey-Panorama Ridge byelection. Liberal Mary Polak's team spent $36 per vote; New Democrat Jagrup Brar $12 per vote. Both parties were helped by outside spending, a topic for another column.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, but when will this happen? Anyone in power, tries to stay in power and thinks that this money is therefore essential (not my premise).