Opinion

Cash Will Remain ‘Mother’s Milk’ of BC Politics Even After Big Money Ban

Pressure to replace lost corporate, union contributions will be enormous.

By Bill Tieleman 8 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” — Ex-California state treasurer Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh

British Columbia will finally end corporate, union and foreign political donations after the BC Liberals allowed the province to become the “wild west of political cash,” as named by the New York Times.

It’s one of many reasons why ex-premier Christy Clark lost voters’ confidence — her private dinners at up to $20,000 per head and overwhelming corporate funding were simply offensive pay-for-play politics.

In opposition, the BC New Democratic Party introduced legislation to ban all but individual contributions six different times and the Green Party also did so — but the BC Liberals were cashing too many humongous cheques to consider it.

However, even when only individual donations are allowed and annual amounts capped, money will still be essential to all political parties’ operations, and the pressure to replace lost corporate and union contributions will be enormous.

The BC Liberals will be the most desperate, as Elections BC reported they collected $13.1 million in 2016, with 59 per cent from corporations and 0.1 per cent from unions. The BC NDP raised less than half that at $6.2 million, with 28 per cent from unions and nine per cent from corporations.

The BC Green Party raised $757,268 in 2016 with $4,900 from corporations and $200 from unions. The party stopped taking corporate and union donations in September 2016.

And the BC Liberals raised at least $8.2 million in the first five months of 2017, according to their own voluntary self-disclosure, which they have since stopped, for an astonishing $21.3 million in just 17 months.

(The BC Liberals even outpaced the BC NDP on individual donations in 2016, raising $4.7 million to $3.8 million.)

But now long-overdue political financing reform legislation will come from the New Democrats in September, with Green support and maybe even “better late than never” backing from the BC Liberals, who indicated surprise support in their short-lived throne speech after the May election before losing power.

It will be a big improvement, bringing B.C. in line with federal and most provincial governments’ laws banning corporate, union and foreign donations.

But with massive corporate funding in the bank and still flowing to the BC Liberals, the BC NDP continues to solicit union and corporate donations until the law changes to limit all parties from such contributions.

Last week BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver got “teed off” about a fundraising golf game and reception NDP Premier John Horgan is hosting Aug. 24 at $500 per person, saying it’s “quite outrageous” given the impending rule changes and “makes people cynical about politics and politicians in general.”

But Weaver’s party was forced to acknowledge during the election it approached four people to request individual donations totalling $30,000 and got a $20,000 gift from one contributor whose family is in the real estate development industry.

And Weaver himself previously solicited donations from around the world in a Facebook post in February 2017.

“A fundraising plea for the 2017 campaign... My friends anywhere in the world can donate any amount of money any time. We do not have restrictions in BC on out of province donations,” he wrote.

I don’t blame Weaver for trying to level the playing field for his party when faced with two opponents with either more money or way more money — but it points out that the only way to reform political financing is to bring in clear laws restricting donations to individuals in B.C. and with a reasonable annual limit like the federal level of $1,500.

And until then, the BC NDP would be absolutely crazy to bring a knife to a gunfight with the corporately well-funded BC Liberals.

So long as politicians need lots of money to run their operations and election campaigns, the mother’s milk of politics will continue to flow freely — and when corporate and unions donations are completely stopped, individuals will be milked for dollars even more.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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