Get big money out of politics

In 1748 Benjamin Franklin wrote “time is money.” An amazing transformation has occurred in the US since then. Over the last 257 years the political system has turned money into time. The more money a politician has, the more time they are likely to have in office.

Similar trends are occurring in Canada. Politics, which used to be battles over ideas and policies fought out on doorsteps and in town halls with the occasional whistle-stop appearance, is now largely clashes of advertising budgets, pollsters and spin doctors.

This mutation is largely the result of the increasing role that money plays in politics. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Theodore H. White captured this trend back in the 1980s, The flood of money that gushes into politics today is a pollution of democracy. In the twenty year since he wrote that it has only gotten worse.

While virtually everyone complains about the role big money plays in politics, finally somebody is doing something about it.

The newly formed Conservation Voters of BC, recently issued a report called Democracy for Sale? : Ending big money’s dominance of BC politics. This report makes a persuasive case for getting big money out of BC politics.

It documents how BC shares with Alberta the dubious distinction of employing the fewest safeguards against big money dominating politics

Frequent readers of Dogwood Initiative website or newsletter will not be surprised by the reports conclusion that:

  1. Between 1996 and October 2003, corporations and businesses put over $28 million into the BC Liberal Party, accounting for 68% of its donations.
  2. In that same period, labour put over $2.7 million into the BC NDP, accounting for 10% of its donations.

What was enlightening is the extent that other jurisdictions in Canada have enacted campaign finance laws that ban donations from corporations and unions (Manitoba and Quebec) and cap donations (Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and the federal government).

The report makes a compelling argument that non-voting economic actors such as corporations and unions should not be allowed to participate in and influence the political process. Unlike the U.S. these legal fictions have not yet succeeded in entrenching personhood rights that would inhibit our ability to limit their role in the political process.

In addition to identifying the problems with big money in politics, Conservation Voters of BC has proposed some practical solutions. They recommend that laws be amended to:

  1. Allow only individual voters to make political contributions; place an absolute ban on corporate, union, or association donations.
  2. Limit the amount that an individual voter may contribute each year to $3,000.
  3. Investigate whether BC’s current election spending caps are fair and effective.
  4. Implement direct public financing of candidates in BC indexed to support in elections.
  5. Reinstate spending controls on third-party campaigning in BC.

Although Conservation Voters of BC’s mission is to make BC politicians accountable to the strong environmental values of the BC public, this petition has the potential to benefit individuals and groups who aren’t ardent environmentalists. People who care about social justice, rural economies, the power of multi-national corporations, the disabled, children’s rights or native issues will all benefit from campaign finance reform.

Conservation Voters of BC’s petition is the perfect instrument to bring British Columbians together to limit the role big money plays. It’s a great idea–I wish I had thought of it myself.

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