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Vision Discloses Interim Fundraising

Developers made largest donations, unions gave less than three per cent.

By Monte Paulsen 14 Nov 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Monte Paulsen is The Tyee's investigative editor. He welcomes feedback (monte@thetyee.ca) and encourages comment in the forum below.

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Vision report: 'Above and beyond' requirements.

Vision Vancouver -- the opposition party calling for a ban on corporate and union donations to civic electoral organizations -- has disclosed the receipt of another $349,526 in donations, 64 per cent of which came from corporations.

Vision was compelled to file the supplemental disclosure because it ended its 2005 campaign almost $200,000 in debt. But Vision's new disclosure appears to exceed what is required by the Vancouver Charter.

"We believe this is the most comprehensive disclosure that has ever been made by a civic electoral organization in Vancouver," said Geoff Meggs, who serves as Vision's financial agent.

Vision's political foe, the ruling Non-Partisan Association, is not legally required to disclose the identities of its donors until after the November 2008 municipal election. NPA caucus coordinator George Higgins said the party is waiting to see if the rules are changed before deciding whether to disclose any sooner.

Higgins, whose party has also recently raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate donations, questioned Vision's decision to take corporate cash.

"I thought Vision was campaigning against corporate donations," Higgins said. "I guess this is a case of not putting their mouth where their money is."

Unions gave less than 3 per cent

Vision filed its supplementary campaign contribution report at Vancouver City Hall today, and will soon be available for public viewing. The report details the electoral organization's activity between Mar. 18, 2006 and Oct. 22, 2007.

Vision reports that it raised $349,526 during that 19-month period.

Corporations gave $221,425, or 64 per cent of the total. Excluding services donated after-the-fact by campaign consultant Mike Magee and pollster Bob Penner, Vision's largest donors were real estate companies. The report shows that Canadian Metropolitan Properties gave $22,100 to Vision, Rennie Marketing Systems gave $21,000, Concord Pacific gave $17,500 and Pacific Place Developments gave $13,500.

Individuals gave $97,475 in donations of $100 or more. That's 27 per cent of the total. Many of the approximately 400 names on the list are current and former Vision volunteers, staff, or officeholders. The average donation was about $250. Only 10 individuals gave more than $1,000. The largest individual donor was Suzanne Hawkes, who gave $4,950.

Individuals gave an additional $11,472 in donations of less than $100. Those small donations raise total giving by individual donors to 31 percent.

Unions gave $9,065 to Vision during the period covered by this report. That's 2.6 per cent of the total. CUPE BC, the civic workers union that led last summers extended strike, gave only $200. (People employed by CUPE also made individual donations, though none were very large. CUPE Local 15 president Paul Faoro, for example, gave $20 a month, for a total of $340.)

Non-profits gave another $2,420. About half of that came from a group called Friends of Taiwan Society.

The Vision report also lists expenses of $235,719 during the same period, none of which are categorized as campaign costs. No other Vancouver electoral organization has disclosed what it is spending between campaigns.

Also in this disclosure, Vision declares that it has retired its 2005 campaign debt. Said Meggs, "Everything we receive from this point forward will fund the 2008 campaign."

'Above and beyond'

"This goes above and beyond what is called for by the Vancouver Charter, because it discloses income and expenses between election years," Meggs said. "We're challenging Vancouver's other electoral organizations to do what we have done."

The Council of Progressive Electors continues to carry an outstanding debt from the 2002 election. The city clerk's office has requested a supplementary report related to the retirement of that debt. (Vision received a similar request related to its 2005 debt.) COPE's leadership is meeting later this week to decide how to respond.

"If our executive determines that we have to file, or choose to file, then we are prepared to do so," said COPE spokesman Ivan Bulic. "We will do whatever is required."

The city clerk has not asked the NPA to disclose its ongoing fundraising, and Higgins said the NPA does not currently have plans to do so.

"We absolutely will disclose every penny we raise," Higgins said. "The question is, 'When?' We are not required to file until 2009."

Higgins said the NPA is waiting to hear from Community Services Minister Ida Chong regarding changes to the provincial legislation that guides municipal elections.

"We're waiting to see what comes from the Province. It really depends on how they change it," Higgins said. "If the rules change, I can't see a problem with disclosing early."

Ministry of Community Services spokesman Marc Black said he was unaware of pending changes to municipal electoral rules, but promised to check with the minister. A few hours later, he e-mailed The Tyee: "Minister Chong is unavailable today but, in any case, would not be able to provide speculative comment."

Donors want level playing field

Vancouver City Council is now scheduled to debate Vision's motion for campaign reform on Nov. 29.

"We believe it is still possible to make changes to the next campaign that would dramatically improve transparency for voters," Meggs said. "But it's not clear at this point whether either of the other organizations support it."

Meggs said donors want a level playing field. He expected that at least some of the contributors listed in today's filing will soon be contacted by rival parties.

"It's quite common for leaders in the business sector to support more than one party," Meggs said. "They would prefer that all parties disclose at the same time. I know that some of them fear they might suffer mistreatment in the political process if they are seen as giving to one side but not the other."

Real estate developers led the field of top contributors to both Vision and the NPA in 2005, and are expected to do so in this election as well. Many are now suffering financially as they carry ongoing project costs while awaiting development permits delayed by the summer strike. An Oct. 26 story in The Vancouver Sun declared, "Developers desperate to get building... many meet with mayor and are ready to pay extra." Reporter Frances Bula reported that worried developers "set up a series of meetings with Mayor Sam Sullivan" and are "willing to pay extra money to hire outside planners and lawyers."

"That sort of headline raises obvious questions," Meggs said. "These developers are proposing to pay money in order to ensure that their needs are addressed. At the same time, the mayor is raising money for his next campaign."

"Citizens now know who is supporting Vision," Meggs said. "We don't know who is supporting the mayor."

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