Democracy at risk – Inaccurate financial reports not sanctioned

Democracy depends on transparency and the rule of law. Unfortunately, neither exists in the murky world of British Columbian election financing. We’re hoping you will help us to change that.

Elections BC, a “non-partisan Office of the Legislature,” chose not to conduct a full investigation of Dogwood Initiative’s complaint that the BC Liberal Party failed to properly disclose 478 donations totaling $510,140.49 in its 2001 report. However, Elections BC did confirm our findings.

In a May 16, 2006 letter to us  they stated,
[We] concur that the [BC Liberal] party did not consistently report correct amounts for combined contributions… to the party and its candidates in the 2001 General Election … It was a systemic error that resulted in some contributions to some candidates not being included in the party’s combined report…

The donations were collected by Liberal candidates, but were not reported in the Party’s filing as required by law. An initial look at the BC Liberal Party’s 2005 report found similar instances of misreporting, while the NDP’s filing for both years appeared to be accurate.

Dogwood Initiative asked Elections BC to investigate the incorrect disclosures in both the BC Liberals’ 2001 and 2005 filings.

Although Elections BC has acknowledged big problems with the BC Liberals’ 2001 filings, the Office has chosen to take no action, downplaying the 2001 inaccuracies by saying the mistakes were not intentional. The Office is, however, continuing to investigate the 2005 inaccuracies.

The BC Liberals got off easy. Financial reporting mistakes can trigger fines of up to $10,000, jail terms and de-registration of the party.
At a recent meeting with Elections BC, we asked that a warning be added on the website notifying anyone that accesses the 2001 filing that it contains “systemic errors.” Elections BC refused, saying, “Regarding your request that we put a notice on the 2001 report, we have determined that it is not feasible and so will not be doing so.”

Dogwood Initiative will continue to pursue the matter-perhaps through a judicial review of Elections BC’s failure to investigate, or via a complaint to the Ombudsman. In the meantime Elections BC will continue to distribute reports it knows contain “systemic errors.”

Elections BC’s lack of enforcement was disappointing, but the growing public support for strong campaign finance laws is positive. Both the provincial NDP and federal Conservative leaders have recently proposed progressive legislation that would ban big money from politics.

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

I think it is. 

But accountability and transparency will only come if you and I demand legislation that keeps big money out of the political process. It’s up to us. Let’s get active. Our communities, our forests, our democracy depend on it.

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