Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is Campaign Finance Reform Coming To Lotusland?


Events over the past week or so have led a whole lotta folks to start combing through the Elections BC political contributions database using search terms like this.

Which is a good, not to mention revealing, thing to do occasionally.

Apparently, Sean Holman likes to do it regularly, just for fun.

And Sean is wondering if The Dippers' coming private members bill that would ban all corporate and union donations to provincial political parties and/or candidates' campaigns is actually a good thing.


Because he thinks it might lead to runaway, hidden contributions through individual surrogates.*

Thus, Sean would rather see more stringent reporting requirements on fundraising.

Which I agree would be a very good thing, indeed.

I'm just entirely convinced that the two things, a ban on big money Corp/Union donations and more stringent reporting, are mutually exclusive.

In other words, why don't we go for broke with both?

*Mr. Holman responds, in the comments, and points out that it is more than just surrogates....and he has a point....Still, as Tony M. mentions the real issue is the big money....thus, maybe NoCorp/Union + Reasonable Limits + More Transparency = No Pay For Play?



Sean Holman said...

It's not even so much surrogates I would worry about - although that's been known to happen. What I really am concerned about is people who donate under their own name with no indicator of what interest they have. It's an executive with a private company, for example, reporters may have no way of attaching him to that firm. I even think back to my experience reporting on donations from community gaming centres, some of which were made individual owners/operators rather that via companies identified in BCLC annual reports as a gaming service provider. That was very challenging to uncover. So if the intent is to get at more openness and accountability in politics, than I think - and I'm willing to be convinced otherwise - that banning corporate and union donations is not the way to go.

Tony Martinson said...

Openness and accountability are all well and good, but the problem is that corporate* money in elections affects to a profound degree their fairness. Elections cost money. They always have. If one or two groups have a direct line to a lion's share of that money and in large amounts, then that directly impacts the exercise of democracy itself.

Limit donations to individuals and put reasonable limits on those donations or it's only the people who have access to the boardrooms who will ever have power. This doesn't in any way preclude enhancing provisions of transparency. But for years, Canadians have said they want to get big money out of politics.

*Unions are by definition corporate entities. Union donations are corporate donations.

RossK said...


I very much see your point, but I think I'm with Tony on this one....If the donation limits are reasonable does this not take care of the 'pay-for-play' issue, at least in terms of the campaign contributions?


Sean Holman said...

Yes, but it'll create another problem. Influence will become even more about individual relationships. And it will empower those who can gather smaller donations from a large number of people. It'll make it more difficult to hold parties accountable. You will never, let me assured you, get rid of private/union/corporate influence. But can at least ensure it's out in the open.

G West said...

Oh yeah you can.
Simply go to public financing only - based on something like the Federal bucks/vote method that Pee Wee simply hates.

There should be NO corporate/personal or union contributions allowed to ANY political party. Taxpayers subsdize current contributions because those who pay money get a deduction from their income at tax time.

In the end the taxpayer pays all the bills - lets also set the rules and make them fair for all.

Earn votes - get the payoff come election time.

If you don't get the votes then bye bye party.

RossK said...


Point taken....If I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong) it would esentially it would be the BBoys all over again, but instead of party memberships it would be contributions?


RossK said...


Fair enough.


That would take real political will to do the right and the hard thing, which is something that appears to be somewhat lacking at the moment.


Sean Holman said...

Yes, that's exactly that point! You've put it much more succinctly. As for full public financing, I still maintain that wouldn't eliminate the influence of corporations or unions - it would just push into less reportable areas.

RossK said...

OK Sean--

But to go the other way....

If the full transparency thing is going to work such that the cords....errr....strings attached to donations in the hundreds of thousands are made self evident for all the citizenry to see, more proMedia folks than yourself (and maybe, now, Chad Skelton) are actually going to have to scrutinize these things, regularly, for fun and profit.



Tony Martinson said...

No no no no no

Political parties are affected by the things that get them elected. The Liberals cannot win CANNOT WIN under the current system without their corporate backers. THEY CANNOT WIN. Similarly, the NDP cannot win without the backing of the unions, although that effect is less pronounced.

If you take away the money, the influence decreases. Goes away? Of course not. But to suggest that some nebulous connections have a greater influence than the six figure checks, you're deluding yourself.

Do you think the Liberals would have considered the HST for one tiny second if Canfor or Teck were opposed? Do you think the NDP would have been so vocal in their opposition to RoR if COPE 378 had not been such a major factor?

Both of those positions (pro-HST, anti-IPP) are easily defensible, but the money involved means that the debate never happens. The Liberals support the HST because corporations wanted it. The NDP opposed IPP because COPE wanted it that way.

That is not democracy. It's vote-by-wallet. The US is that system taken to its nth degree. It's bad. It's wrong.

I'm all for transparency, and you can achieve that in other ways. The NDP is absolutely right to call for a ban on corporate* (See above) donations.