Monday, August 22, 2005

Weirdness and worry in the political finance reports

VICTORIA - First notes from the Elections BC reports on B.C.'s most expensive political campaign ever. (With a more thoughtful overview to come.)
- The buzz that the Liberals were spending huge amounts to try and save key candidates like former labour minister Graham Bruce turns out to be entirely accurate. The finance reports show that the Liberals sent $189,000 into his Cowichan riding in an unsuccessful effort to hold the seat. Only Gordon Campbell, with $157,000, Lorne Mayencourt, with $145,000, and Virgina Greene came close to getting such a big chunk of cash from the party. Greene and Bruce lost despite the money, but the big spending may have made the difference in Mayencourt's narrow win. (There are spending limits for candidates, but they only cover the 28 days of the campaign. It's wide open in the months before, when the lucky candidates got much of the money.)
- The reports also confirm that the Liberals had written off seats in southeastern B.C. Poor Wendy McMahon got just $21,000 to help fight her losing battle, while Blair Suffredine got $27,000. The average across all 79 ridings was $76,000.
- The First Dollar Alliance Society, based in Campbell River, registered as a third-party campaigner, raising $27,250 to promote the Liberals and local candidate Rod Visser. The biggest donor? Why the government of B.C., which contributed $17,500. But it's not like it looks, said Leanne Brunt. That money was for a conference of women from resource communities. The money spent on the pro-Liberal campaign came almost entirely from corporate donors. It still leaves the Alliance's grassroots claims looking a little tattered.
- The money trails behind the third party campaigns are twisting and tangled. Which side, for example, would you say the Comox Valley Association for Good Government is on? Liberal, as it turns out, and more than one-third of the $15,000 it raised to support Stan Hagen came from Great Canadian Railtours, a good Liberal donor with not much to do with the Comox Valley. Great Canadian gave another $57,000 directly to the Liberal campaign.
And then there's the Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations of BC, which raised $86,000 to oppose the Liberals. But dig in to the documents and you find $71,000 of that came from various union groups, including $45,000 from the BC Federation of Labour. That's on top of the BC Fed's own $114,000 third party campaign and the $412,000 it donated to the NDP.
- Unions spent more than $3 million on third party campaigns, a large amount but less than the Liberals had predicted during the campaign (and as recently as last week when they quoted a figure of $10 million in a press release).
- Cline Mining, the small corporation at the centre of a big B.C.-Montana fight over a planned coal mine near the U.S. border., came through for the Liberals with a $15,000 donation. Cline's right to develop the mine has been championed by the government, but it's still a generous gift from a company that lost almost $400,000 last year.
- It was once again not easy being Green. The party manage to raise $90,000, almost all from individual donations. It's a hopelessly small amount to fund a provincial campaign. The Green's biggest budget expense - brochures - cost less than the $15,000 victory celebration party in Gordon Campbell's riding.
- The Greens were able to get their financial reports in by the deadline, but Adriane Carr had to get an extension for filing her candidates' financial statements. So did 11 NDP candidates, including five who were elected - Ronin Austin, Mike Farnworth, Sue Hammell, Harry Lali and Diane Thorne.
- The most efficient campaigner among the leaders filing returns was Marc Emery, who reported campaign expenses of $100 and got 374 votes, for a cost of 27 cents for vote won. Carole James, who spent $55,000 and got 16,081 votes spent $3.40 per vote. Campbell's $177,000 in spending and lower vote total meant he had to spend more than $14 per vote.
Footnote: The pressure for political finance reform is mounting. The NDP and Greens already support a ban on union and corporate donations, and the New Democrats are now open to better controls on third party spending. The Liberals stand alone in defending the status quo.


Anonymous said...

The fun will really start when people realize how much of the B.C. Liberal's corporate financing came from within Canada, but outside of B.C. and from foreign owned companies.

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