Would you pay $20,000 to eat rubbery chicken, drink a couple glasses of wine, shake some hands and listen to boring political speeches?
No, probably not.
How about $5,000 or $10,000 a table? Or $1,000, $1,500 or $2,500 a plate?
Me neither. But CEOs of British Columbia’s biggest corporations routinely hand over big cheques to hobnob with Christy Clark and her cabinet at BC Liberal party fundraisers. Or more recently, with John Horgan and the BC NDP.
If this is not legalized bribery, I don’t know what is. Certainly the $2,500, $10,000 or even $20,000 price of entry isn’t paying for the food and drink. So what’s it for?
The corrosive impact of money on politics has been in the news a lot lately. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau is on the defensive for allegedly violating his own rules at a $1,500-a-ticket private fundraiser attended by a number of Chinese billionaires seeking access and favours from Trudeau’s government.
One wealthy attendee, Zhang Bin, has strong ties to the Communist Party in China and reportedly donated $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation soon after the exclusive event. Another tycoon in attendance, Shenglin Xian, received final approval soon afterward to open a bank in Canada. The Liberal Party maintains that government business is not discussed at these fundraisers.
Nonetheless, Federal Finance Minister Bill Moreau and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould have also garnered headlines and negative editorials across the country for participating in these cash-for-access events. So have many of Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario cabinet ministers.
Down south, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built their campaigns around slamming the role big donors play in driving policy in Washington D.C. Yet here in British Columbia – the wild west of political fundraising – Christy Clark’s BC Liberals are raking in unprecedented amounts of political money from dozens of corporations (foreign and domestic) with businesses regulated by her government, including from oil, mining, coal, LNG and real estate sectors. Pay-for-access dinners happen frequently in British Columbia, generally without a peep from the press.
John Horgan’s NDP slipped into the cesspool last week when his laudatory announcement to end the grizzly bear trophy hunt was hijacked by news that he was hosting a $10,000 VIP fundraiser with undisclosed “resource industry leaders” later that night.
While fracking, mining and timber companies can’t win any immediate concessions by wining and dining opposition leader John Horgan, perhaps they are just hedging their bets in case he forms government after the May election. It is worth noting corporations also dramatically increased donations to the NDP immediately before the 2013 election – when the NDP was widely predicted to win.
For someone like me who believes in transparency, integrity and public service, it’s all pretty depressing.
But the news is not all bad. In September, the Green Party of BC announced that, effective immediately, they would voluntarily impose a ban on donations of any kind from corporations and unions.
It was an important step that raised the ethical bar higher for all other political parties in our magnificent province. Unfortunately, they are the only party so far to have mustered the courage for bold change.
Critics of the Green Party have dismissed their voluntary ban as a stunt, citing the dearth of union and corporate donations the party receives. But in 2015, the Green Party received $10,549 (just under 3 per cent of their total donations) from unions and corporations, and these donations totaled $23,568 (~ seven per cent of the party’s income) in 2014. These totals, while small, are not insignificant for a small party.
So while it’s certainly easier for the Green Party to take a principled stand, other opposition parties wouldn’t be crippled by following the Green Party’s lead. While the Libs got an astonishing $5,308,788 (53.19 per cent of total donations) from non-voting corporate and union donors in 2015, the NDP raised only a tiny fraction of that – $520,156 (17 per cent of their total).
Bernie Sanders showed us small donors will flock to progressive leaders who take a strong ethical stand against crony capitalism. Bernie’s campaign raised over $200,000,000 (the equivalent of almost one dollar from every eligible voter in the U.S). Using a similar formula, the BC NDP could raise at least $3,100,000 from B.C. voters, more than offsetting the corporate and union money they currently collect.
The BC Green Party reportedly raised $50,000 from individual donors after their voluntary ban on corporate money. In other words, in a few days the Greens raised more than four times the amount corporations gave them last year and double the sum raised in 2014.
The BC Conservative Party would face an even smaller shortfall, only having to backfill $4,250 (7.85 per cent of total income) if they refused to accept corporate or union money.
To give them credit, the BC NDP has tabled a private member’s bill five different times that would ban non-voters from making political donations and cap individual donations. If elected, leader John Horgan promises to clean up political fundraising for good. But in the meantime, he continues to solicit union and corporate money, arguing he can’t “unilaterally disarm” in the face of Christy Clark’s fundraising blitzkrieg.
Unfortunately, the NDP seems to be ignoring the old Albert Einstein quote about the definition of insanity – doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.
Clearly the BC NDP approach is insane by Einstein’s definition. As they have almost every year for decades, the NDP is exponentially losing the arms race to Premier Clark’s money machine, and are unlikely to catch up by election time. Trying to compete with the BC Liberals when you are being out-fundraised ten to one is a mug’s game. Yet the BC NDP refuse to change course.
Polling commissioned by Dogwood and conducted by Insights West shows an overwhelming majority of supporters from both the BC Liberals (81 per cent) and the BC NDP (91 per cent) want an end to corporate, union and out of province donations before the next election. So the challenge to the BC NDP is: will they listen?
If not, British Columbians need a game plan for after the vote in May – because without a clear alternative to Christy Clark’s corporate cronyism, there’s a strong likelihood the BC Liberals will use their massive monetary advantage to grind out another win.
Join thousands of other British Columbians who are fed up with business-as-usual politics by signing your name to Dogwood’s Ban Big Money campaign today. Together, we can hold all politicians to account for the destructive role money is playing in our political system – before, during and after the 2017 election.