COMMENT: B.C. Liberals in no position to give other parties lessons on political fundraising

Dermod Travis
By Dermod Travis
April 23rd, 2013

It’s a bit rich for the B.C. Liberal party to be giving lessons to the BC NDP on political fundraising, as they tried to do over the weekend after the NDP sent a fundraising appeal to corporate Liberal party donors.

The Liberals might have been well-advised to leave well enough alone, if for no other reason than it might invite comparisons over their own track record when it comes to fundraising.

Only last week, in his Vancouver Sun column, Craig McInnes asked readers if they felt there was a connection between the fact that the largest donor to the B.C. Liberal campaign in 2009 was the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. and that the only significant tax change that survived the transition back to the PST was the 12 per cent sales tax on private vehicle sales, a rate that benefits car dealers?

McInnes made the illustration in a discussion over NDP leader’s Adrian Dix’s promise to ban corporate and union donations to B.C.’s political parties.

Yet, McInnes was likely only scratching the surface of possible connections between wealthy B.C. Liberal party donors and government policies that British Columbians could ponder over.

Having raised $50 million from corporate donors since 2005, there’s likely no shortage of similar interesting relationships.

For instance, only last November concerns were raised regarding the propriety of a ’boutique’ tax break that was specifically designed to benefit Prince George-based Pacific Western Brewery, a major donor to the B.C. Liberals.

But it’s not just a pattern of worrisome connections that should concern voters, it’s the very fundraising approaches that the B.C. Liberal party uses as well.

Tactics that should make them one of the least likely parties to start throwing mud.

In February 2012, the B.C. Liberals held what they called a “power lunch” for Surrey businesspeople who wanted to bring their “issues forward for discussion and response before the next election” with Minister of Open Government Margaret MacDiarmid.

The message was clear: pay to attend a private Liberal party “power lunch,” have the chance to bring an issue forward and get a “response before the next election.”

It’s a message not lost on Liberal party donors.

Caught making prohibited donations to the B.C. Liberals over three years, one of the party’s donors tried to justify the donations by stating that they were made so that he could attend a handful of fundraising receptions in order to speak with Liberal MLAs Moira Stillwell, Richard Lee and Christy Clark.

The donor went on to state: “That’s the way the system works.”

The Liberal party isn’t shy in taking donations from virtually anyone who can sign a cheque, from anywhere in the world, no matter the amount. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the donations are actually permitted under B.C.’s already loose election financing laws or not.

Last year, the B.C. Liberal party was required to return $20,355 in prohibited donations it had collected, including $12,633 from Simon Fraser University, $300 from Vancouver-False Creek Liberal candidate Sam Sullivan’s Global Civic Policy Society, and $850 from the Prince George Airport Authority.

The NDP didn’t report any donation returns in 2012.

From 2006 to 2011, the Liberals had to return 22 prohibited donations it received from charities, while the NDP returned two. Such donations are prohibited under both the B.C. Election Act and federal legislation.

The Liberals also reported remitting $4,920 to Elections BC in membership fees the party had collected in its 2011 filing, the same year Christy Clark was elected leader. It’s an amount that represents an estimated 492 incomplete membership applications.

The NDP didn’t report any incomplete membership applications in its filings.

There’s only one sure-fire way to clear the stench from political fundraising in B.C.: ban corporate, union and out-of-province donations.

It’s a policy position supported by the BC NDP, the Greens, the Conservatives, BC First, the Christian Heritage party, all three Independent MLAs, Vision Vancouver, the NPA, COPE and, according to a Mustel public opinion survey in March, by nearly 60 per cent of British Columbians as well.

Only the B.C. Liberal party is giving a firm thumbs down to this sure-fire odour eater.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

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