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The BC NDP's quiet backers: dead donors

A retired schoolteacher who wanted to keep money away from distant relatives, a quiet recluse who lived the life of a pauper and a "cantankerous, old pioneer woman" are a few of the wealthy eccentrics who have contributed hundreds of thousands to the BC NDP party from beyond the grave.

The NDP, federally and provincially, has raised more money from deceased people than any other party.

But the party, at least in B.C., has seen a significant drop in these estate gifts, the type of individual donations that would still be allowed should Adrian Dix take power and follow up on his vow to ban corporate and union political contributions.

In 2010, 35 per cent of the BC NDP's revenues came from individual estate gifts; money bequeathed in a person's will. More than half of that came from top donor Olive Fairburn, whose estate gave $465,996.34.

According to a Public Eye exclusive, these figures were revealed at a NDP executive meeting in 2010, in which party president Moe Sihota noted that without estate gifts, the party would be financially "behind the eight ball."

In 2006, 2007 and 2010, the top donors were all from individuals' estates.

Evalyn Cheney, a retired schoolteacher, bequeathed her entire fortune to the NDP in two lump sums in 2005 and 2007, totalling $632,718.63.

According to a Vancouver Sun report, accounts differ on whether she was particularly political or not. She did write this in the margins of a document accompanying her will:

"I specifically do not want any distant relatives who have had no contact with me for years and whom I do not know where they are to have any part of my estate."

The estate of Ruth M. Hass gave $210,857.87 in 2010, the year she died. The CBC reported that Hass was a resident of the Okanagan Valley and longtime NDP supporter. A neighbour described her as "one of these cantankerous, old pioneer women," and an original member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation -- the party that went on to become the NDP.

The most consistent deceased donor was one Robert D. Mallen, who has given the party more than half a million dollars since his death in 2001. In 2002 alone, Mallen's estate gifted $102,043 to the NDP -- more than the combined amounts of all labour unions that year -- which was followed by subsequent annual donations of roughly $50,000 each.

A 2009 Victoria Times-Colonist article described him as a "penny-pinching hermit." According to the piece, Mallen was unknown to anyone in the party, but had a small group of friends in Saanich, where he lived alone and biked around town sporting duct-taped shoes.

Mallen's last gift to the party, $19,268.18, was in 2011. That year, estate donations totalled $78,913.61. In 2012, estate donations to the NDP amounted to just $5,000.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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