Tuesday, December 09, 2008

No gambling donations, says Campbell – you decide

The B.C. Liberals don't accept donations from gambling companies, Gordon Campbell said last week.
You decide if the premier is being straight.
Because it looks like some $270,000 went into Liberal coffers between 2002 and 2007 from people and companies linked to the growing gambling business in B.C.
This column rests entirely on the fine work of Sean Holman of the 24 Hours free newspaper and his own website, publiceyeonline.com.
Holman was curious about gambling companies and political donations. They didn't show up in the financial reports the parties filed with Elections B.C.
But he decided to dig deeper and checked out the people behind the numbered companies and businesses or individuals with unfamiliar names that contributed to the Liberals.
He found some $265,000 in contributions had come from people connected with the industry - current or former gambling facilities owners or operators. But the donations had not come through the gambling businesses, but indirectly as individual donations or through other companies controlled by the same people.
For example, there was $23,000 in contributions from B-11 Holdings Ltd. and 7779 Ventures Inc. The companies' presidents were Patricia and Gary Hart; Patricia Hart is also president of the service provider to Chances Kamloops, one of the mini-casinos being rolled out in smaller communities.
There was $6,500 from Kings North Development Corp. Its president Mark Ekraut, is also president of the service provider for Bingo Bingo Esquimalt.
The list went on.
Holman called the donors to ask why the contributions were made in that way.
No reason, most said. They just happened to have a chequebook handy from the other company when they contributed, or there was more money in its account or they just couldn't remember.
But then Holman talked to John Becher, who owns the Lucky Dollar Bingo Palace in Terrace.
He said members of the Registered Gaming Management Companies of B.C. - which represents a majority of B.C.'s bingo halls and community gaming centres - were told not to make their donations through their gaming service provider company.
Otherwise, the public might have concerns, he added. "People will say, 'Gee, what's going on here. We can see why the government wants all these slots put in because they're being supported by the gaming association,'" Becher said.
Becher said the request for donations, and the suggested method of donation, came from Tom Nellis, president of the association.
No way, says Nellis. He never suggested members donate to the Liberals in any fashion.
Holman found another interesting fact in the Elections B.C. documents.
Almost one-quarter of the donations came into the Liberal party on the same day, three months before the last provincial election.
Seven different donations on the same day, from people and businesses linked to gambling.
And not one through a company readily identifiable as a gambling interest.
Now that is a coincidence. The odds against all those people in one industry independently deciding to write a cheque to the Liberals on the same day have to be up there with winning a lottery.
Yet Campbell says the party won't accept money from "gaming" companies. (In opposition, the Liberals called it gambling.)
That suggests he believes taking the money would be improper. So if it's happening. . .
The other thing Holman revealed was the emptiness of Campbell's defence of unrestricted political donations. In B.C., unions, businesses, individuals and interest groups can give any amount. Federally, only individual donations are allowed and they're limited to $1,100.
As long as donations are disclosed, Campbell argues, the public can tell if big contributors are getting special treatment from government.
But how are most people to go through hundreds of pages of forms, note a donation from 7779 Ventures Inc., check the officers and directors and cross-reference them against gambling companies or people who get government contracts?
B.C. is an anything goes province. Rich special interests can give what they want. And the public has to wonder how badly political parties come to depend on that support.
Footnote: The backdrop for all this is the Liberals' abandonment of their campaign promise to halt the expansion of gambling because of the damage it does to individuals, families and communities. Campbell has never explained why the principled pledge was forgotten in a massive expansion of slots and casinos and the introduction of online betting.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I frankly don't see the big issue. As I read the coverage, it would appear that both parties appear to accept donations from gaming corps or people who work in the field. Its a legal industry and employees thousands of people. I just don't see the story here. Compare that to Brad Zubyk's recent revelations about union collusion with the NDP to avoid the Elections Act - now that's the story.

I thought the NDP got what they deserved on the gaming issue. On top of themselves taking gaming donations, they are a party that stole money from charities, a current NDP house leader who was responsible for gaming during Casinogate, and then finding out John Horgan was a lobbyist to add slots in Vancouver -- they bring this record to the House and try to be sanctimonious? Shameful.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments above. Also the one thing that I don't understand is the amount of union donations to the NDP. The money gathered from their members is then given to a party that they may not believe in. Hows that for democracy?