Monday, May 02, 2005

Liberals show need to ban old-style fundraising

VICTORIA - Yes, the scandal over the BC Liberals' fund-raising practices is real.
Not in the way you might at first think, that the Campbell Liberals are breaking new ground, or some sort of rogues within a generally fine system. In fact, all parties in power raise money in similar ways, and that includes selling access to the leader, or cabinet ministers.
But in this election, the Green Party and the NDP have both promised political financing reform if they form government. Corporate, union and municipal donations would be banned and individual donations limited, as they are federally and in Quebec and Manitoba.
The Liberals are opposed to reform. And that should be an important policy difference for voters.
The money involved in the Liberals' wrong-doing is small, but the specifics are serious. Municipalities, individuals and businesses in the northwest were encouraged to pay to attend an economic development conference. Taxpayers paid to fly in ministers, as well as senior bureaucrat Andrew Wilkinson, a former Liberal party president.
And then the local Liberal party treated the event as a fund-raiser, and pocketed the proceeds.
In Nelson, a similar scheme saw the party profit from what was billed as a breakfast meeting with Economic Development Minister John Les. Want to talk about the interests of your small business with the minister, or hear his ideas? Write the party a cheque.
The Liberals also took money from charities, something party rules rightly bar.
In turn, the Liberals complain the NDP took money from First Nations' governments in 1997, and that unions are skirting election finance laws with their anti-Liberal campaigns.
The Liberals have shown that the current system does not work. According to a national survey in 2000, almost 90 per cent of Canadians believe "people with money have a lot of influence over the government."
It does not take any deep study to conclude that a corporation, or union, that donates $50,000 a year to the party in power will benefit as a result. If two editors call me tomorrow with questions about B.C. politics, and one has been running the column regularly and the other rarely, I'll call the supporter first.
Certainly that's the way donors think. The Liberals are in trouble in part because they took money from municipalities. The mayors, and councillors, defend buying tickets to party fund-raisers in part because it bought them access to cabinet ministers that they could not otherwsie get. Pay the price to the party, reap the benefits.
Consider Paul Martin's leadership campaign. Long after competitors had been routed, he was receiving millions in donations.
Why? Supporters didn't have to worry about ensuring a Martin government, as that was already certain. The only explanation, is that they wanted their financial support to be noted for future reference. They expected something. (Corporations and unions both have legal obligations to spend money in ways that benefit their shareholders and members.)
Campbell says disclosure of donations is enough. You should be able to keep track of the thousands of donors, and thousands of decisions by secretive governments, and decide if improper favoritism is being shown. It was always a far-fetched argument, but the Liberal party's current claim that it couldn't even keep track of donors or fund-raising schemes elevates the argument to fantasy.
It's not a complicated problem. Ban donations from corporations, unions and organizations, and set reasonable limits for individuals. Decide how much parties - which are supposedly volunteer-based - really need to operate, and run election campaigns. If donation limits make it impossible for them to get enough money, then come up with equitable public funding.
The issue is simple. Is it likely, or possible, that parties will feel an obligation to those who give them huge amounts of money? Almost all of us - and this what matters - say yes.
That perception alone threatens democracy, and is reason enough to ban corporate and union donations.
Footnote: The Liberals raised $5 million in the first 10 months of last year. About $3.5 million came from corporations and other businesses, while individuals contributed $1.5 million, mostly from people willing to write big cheques. The NDP took in $2.5 million, with $360,000 from unions and the rest from individuals, largely writing small cheques.


Anonymous said...

I guess you have to serve your canwest masters by minimising liberal corruption, especially after you made a statement previously that they do not feather their own beds.I daresay you are scared to look too deep.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Canwest, I noticed Global-BCTV seemed to be the only station that didn't do a story on "Donate-gate", on last nights news. Why is that? There was significant info released about this story yesterday, Global is quickly losing what little credibility they have left.

Ron Mexico said...

I hate this simplistic view of election financing. When you ban unions and business from election donations; Will third party campaigns also be banned? As we all know unions run massive third party campaigns, and pull upon their infrastructure and financial resources to defeat the "right wing" party of the day. As I understand blocking third party donations has been unsuccessful and struck down in court. This leaves the NDP with a huge financing advantage. The NDP’s promise to ban union and corporate donations is very hollow and I’m surprised you have not seen through their ploy.

It’s interesting that you point out that the Liberals raised about 3.5 million from corporations and the unions only donated $350,000 to the NDP. Now why don’t you take into account third party advertising and now compare how much unions donate to how much business donated. There is a reason why the NDP only wants third party campaigns.

Anonymous said...

Ron, I see you're at it again. Time and again you act as though it's only the NDP who have third party support. You ignore plenty of third party advertising on behalf of the BC Liberals (Business Council of BC, Independent Contractors Association, anyone?)

Also, if direct donations were banned you can be sure business would funnel that money into even more 3rd party advertising to tip the scales even further in their favour. No one can claim the high ground here, so for the love of god, please stop.

Ron Mexico said...

"No one can claim the high ground here, so for the love of god, please stop"

We'll really that's what I wanted to hear. That no body can claim the high ground. But the thing is the NDP and it's supporters claim the high ground constantly and that is what ticks me off, not the actual donations. I could really care less about the money. The claim of taking the high ground that really irks me. Especially that stupid 12% figure. The fact is NDP supporters only take into account a portion of the picture, then claim the high ground. That’s BS and ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Hello Voters,

Isn't this an interesting concept. The charities donating to the Liberals. And the Liberals donating to the charities. Millions and millions of dollars every year through gaming proceeds. Have a look at the list on the government's website (Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch) for the list of them----about 6000 in all.

And what's more interesting is that the Liberals own audit of 5% of the gaming grants found 30% of them to be non-compliant. That is posted on the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Service Plan 2004/05--2006/07 see the table that proves it on page 34.

Last October I filed a Freedom of Information request to find out the names of the approximately 176 grants that failed that audit, as well as the amounts of cash given out and the reasons why they failed the audit.

It's 7 months later and the government has let me see only 4 audits. The FOI request is being appealed. Think they'll release the audits before the election?

I wonder what kind of charity the Tsawwassen Order of Old Bastards is. Looks like their direct access grant was for $40,000. It would be interesting to see what good deeds they spent their money on. As well as the 5999 other grants.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Paul!

...and yes, Mr. Mexico, third party campaigns are another issue entirely, though after hearing various business and construction industry reps on TV, I'm not sure why you'd think this was a problem peculiar to "unions".

We can hardly stop independent groups (business, union or otherwise) exercising free speech. And if they're not endorsing any political party or candidate, it's not the direct quid pro quo that you get with political financing.

...after all, Mr. Campbell is perfectly free to endorse union positions (as Ms. James has endorsed key business positions) and then romp his way to victory on the back of the BCTF's $5 million campaign!

Anonymous said...

"But the thing is the NDP and it's supporters claim the high ground constantly and that is what ticks me off, not the actual donations."

Honestly Ron, ask yourself, don't the BC Liberals (and supporters) also constanly claim the moral high ground? They ran the last election on it. Even now, when faced with evidence that they've lost it, they still claim to have it. I guess no one can claim the moral high ground about maintaing... nevermind, you get my point.

Gazetteer said...

Mr. Mexico--

I agree with Mr. Willcocks comments that the Liberal law preventing charitable donations to political parties was a good step forward after their election in 2001.

I also agree with you that the actual dollar amounts here are irrelevant (in contrast to the comments, of course of Mr. Reichert).

However, jut to be clear - are you suggesting that a charity or a First Nations group contributing to a political party, openly, is equivalent to paying for access to a government official?

Because, if you are I am concerned that you are perhaps equating bad practice (ie. a charity contributing to a political party) with a word that Rafe Mair used twice, and on purpose, during his discussion with Gary Collins this morning.

In the interests of not getting Mr. Willcocks in trouble I will not hammer out that word here and now on the keyboard.

Let's just say that it begins with a letter between 'D' and 'F' and leave it at that.

(or, you can always visit my site where I am very much in agreement with Mr. Mair's sentiments on the matter)

Ron Mexico said...

As long as the, "12% of NDP donations come from unions, therefor the NDP is the party of the people", is still being used I’ll still bring this up. That is my real complaint, flat out lying. And I know how much you guys hate lying, or shall we say messaging the truth. A similar point would be the "sale" of BC Rail. You'll say that's a sale. I say it's a lease. Like the 12% argument, saying it’s a lease is correct. But when you add the necessary context it's false.

paul said...

Thanks to all for the interesting points. I don't usually get many comments, and have wondered if it would be a problem.
I very much appreciate the way people have disagreed in polite and respectful ways. It's made for an educatinal discussion, and eased my mind.
Paul Willcocks

Anonymous said...

It was the premier's brother Michael who railed against a law that would strike down 3rd party ads. Mikey likes the fact that business can shovel money into ad campaigns for this and that. The right-wing have always put more money into 3rd party ads. So in any comparison os finances that includes 3rd party money, its still going to look pretty favourably for the NDP.

Anonymous said...

A correction to my former comment---the sixth one where I mentioned a charity that recieved gaming funds. As the headings to the columns of cash are listed only on one page for the dozens of pages of charities----I made an oversight.

It appears the Tsawwassen Order of Old Bastards did not get a direct access grant for $40,000. It looks like their grant was for $22,139.69 via a bingo affiliation. Regrets for the error.

North of Hope said...

Campbell has asked BC Elections to investigate campaign contributions for the last 10 years. If they could, it would take a very long time. Howeever, I heard that the head od BC Elections said he cannot do such a study because the Canpbell Liberals have cut his budget so much, tay don't have the resources that kind of investigation.

Anonymous said...

The Tsawassen Order of Old Bastards are a local charitable organization that contributes to many local causes.

They also do fundraising at the Sunfest, and make some excelent curly fries using a contraption made of two power drills. $3.50 though, ouch!

Naturally their sign says "Tsawassen order of old B's".

JJ said...

There are rumours that bingo is being banned in the US, is that true?
In the UK, bingo has suffered in recent months due to the ban on smoking in public places, causing smoking customers to either go outside for a cig and face the harsh cold (not a good move for the aged) or stay at home and not play, thus starving people like me wanting to Play Bingo UK Halls constantly. But banning bingo completely is ridiculous! It is a very mild form of gambling at the most! If you’re going to ban bingo then the lottery has to go too surely? Isn’t that gambling?
Bingo is a number game, based on pure luck, so really it’s not even similar to other gambling games such as poker and sports betting. It’s just like buying a lottery ticket just you have to get more numbers! So then why is it such a problem? Its just takes away the older generations entertainment while the younger generations indulge in perfectly “legal” things like DRUGS! Can they not see which the bigger problem is?

bingo news said...

"$22,139.69 via a bingo affiliation" wow thats alot of money!