Big Money is Corrupting Politics

Canadians want accountable government. We are yearning for transparent responsible decision-making, driven by the broader public interest, not the size of a donor’s check.

The demand for accountability is driving change in Ottawa and is percolating out to Victoria. The federal Liberals were run from office because of shady dealings related to campaign donations, and now Dogwood Initiative has revealed that the BC Liberals systemically underreported donations in both 2001 and 2005.

A months-long Dogwood Initiative investigation has documented almost half a million dollars in donations that the BC Liberal party failed to accurately report in its 2001 financial disclosure report as required by law.

Almost 500 inaccuracies, most of which were undisclosed donations reported by candidates but not by the party, were identified by Dogwood Initiative. This amounts to almost a third of the $1.6 million donated directly to Liberal candidates.

We discovered that approximately six percent of donations weren’t properly disclosed by the party in 2001. The largest inaccuracies involved donations to candidates that later became cabinet ministers.

Our random audit of the BC Liberals’ recently filed 2005 financial report revealed similar systemic reporting mistakes, while our random spot check of the NDP’s 2001 and 2005 filings did not.

Dogwood Initiative has requested that BC’s Chief Electoral Officer, the watchdog overseeing electoral rules,  conduct an investigation of the inaccurate reports.

The filing of “false or misleading” financial reports is an offence under the Elections Act, punishable by to up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If convicted, the law would require the Liberal Party to be de-registered. 

Pursuing a criminal offence charge is the only sanction available tothe Chief Electoral Officer if Dogwood Initiative’s allegations areconfirmed. This illustrates the need to amend the Elections Act to giveour electoral watchdog more nuanced tools to enforce compliance withelections laws. The law should also be immediately amended to requireall parties to provide an electronic copy of their donation reports toElections BC to facilitate the creation of an on-line searchabledatabase of all political contributions.

Dogwood Initiativedidn’t set out to investigate inaccurate financial reporting. In fact,we happened on it by accident.  In order to track the influence largedonations from logging, mining and oil and gas companies were having ongovernment policy, we created a database of all corporate donationsgoing back to 1996.

We use this information to help our localpartners defend their interests against unsustainable projects. As newsspread that we had a donations database, occasionally we would getcalls to search for donations from specific corporations.

Acall from a group concerned about BC’s large polluters led us todiscover the BC Liberal’s reporting inaccuracies. After confirming thatmany of BC’s largest polluters are also donors to the BC Liberals, Iwas asked whether our database included all donations made directly tocandidates. I said yes, because all parties are legally required toinclude all donations made to the party, their candidates andconstituency associations in their year end report, which we used tocreate our database.
But when we cross referenced a couple of the reports from candidates, we found the systemic inaccuracies. 

Tomake the role money is playing in BC’s political system moretransparent, Dogwood Initiative is seeking donors to support ourefforts to update our database to include all individual donations over$1,000 and to make our database available online so people can easilydetermine who is influencing which party. 

We predict campaignfinancial reform will become a hot button issue in BC and acrossCanada.  A report released last year by the Conservation Voters of BCshows that BC shares with Alberta the dubious distinction of having thefewest safeguards preventing big money from dominating politics.

Theprovincial NDP and federal Conservatives are responding. Both have putforward legislation that would impose new rules to keep big money outof politics.

In the last session of legislature, Carole Jamesintroduced a private members’ bill which would ban corporate and uniondonations, and would impose a $1,000 cap on personal donations andintroduces a review of third party advertising limits.
StephenHarper’s Accountability Act proposes similar rules in order to give”Canadians a new vision, a plan to renew faith in government, toinstill a culture of accountability…” Mr. Harper’s version contains noprovision related to third party advertising.

However, the BC Liberals, content with the $11.5 million it raised from non-voters, are resisting the trend.

BritishColumbians need to demand our politicians level the playing field. BClags behind five other provinces and the federal government by havingno cap on donations. And every province except BC and Alberta hasdirect public financing for candidates to level the playing field.

It’sunderstandable that Gordon Campbell doesn’t support Carole James’effort to introduce campaign finance reform. Last year the BC Liberalsout-fundraised Ms. James’ party by $6 million, relying primarily oncorporate donations fueled by its corporate friendly policies. Whyshould British Columbians tolerate a government whose main    financialsupport comes from organizations that are not eligible to vote?

Giventhe public outrage over the sponsorship scandal, and the BC Liberal’slaisez-faire approach to disclosing donations, campaign finance reformseems like a no-brainer. Ms. James has renewed her call for reform bytabling a motion supporting the Chief Electoral Officer’srecommendations for tightening BC’s electoral finance laws.

Butthe NDP doesn’t have to wait for the BC Liberals to take action. Theycould seize the high ground by voluntarily refusing to accept corporateand union donations or individual donations over $1,000.

Isn’t it time that the true voters-you and I-had the right to determine the direction of political power?  

Ithink it is. If you do too, write or call, Carole James, GordonCampbell or your local MLA and demand new legislation that keeps bigmoney out of the political process.

Candidate No. of Errors Amount
Ted Nebbeling 58 48,650 
 Claude Richmond 40 42,989
 Bill Bennett 28 23,705

The top three Liberal candidates who misreported contributions in 2001

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