Commentary: It’s all in the name. Or is it?

by Dermod Travis,


Companies rarely complain when you underestimate their political donations, particularly if the amounts already look bad. But when you miss their donations to a party altogether it can cause some grief, particularly if it’s an association of strong-minded individuals from across the political spectrum.

Which is why – if you have to make that error – the last group in the world you would want to do it to is the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia. Or is that the Trial Lawyers Association of BC?

Because according to the database at Elections B.C., the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia has given $34,820 to the B.C. Liberals and zilch to the NDP, while the Trial Lawyers Association of BC has donated $18,875 to the NDP and zilch to the Liberals.

To further complicate matters, donations from the one do not appear with the results of donations from the other, even though they’re both the same association. And to top it all off the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. (with periods) hasn’t given anything to any political party.

Then, of course, there’s the “Trial Lawyers Ass’n of BC” which gave $890 to the NDP and the “Trial Lawyers Assn of BC” that gave a further $1,900 to the NDP.

And none of the donations from those last two forms of the association’s name appear among the results for “Trial Lawyers Association of BC,” the other one ending in “British Columbia” or “Trial Lawyers Association.”

Therein lies the problem with the database at Elections B.C. Exact it is not.

It’s more akin to a treasure hunt where every possible permutation of a company or association’s name must be considered and sometimes conjured up from variations no one may have thought of before just to get what might approximate accurate results.

For instance, since 2005, the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. has donated all of $1,000 and every cent of it to Kevin Falcon’s 2011 Liberal leadership campaign. The “New Car Dealers Association of BC” (no periods) has donated a little over $1 million.

Donations from the “New Car Dealers Association” ring in at $1.12 million and amazingly all 120 of the donations from – guess who – the “New Car Dealers Association of BC.”

But perhaps you’re curious and want to determine how much car dealers across the province have given to political parties over and above the benevolence of their industry association.

Covering all conceivable automobile manufacturer bases, you do a search for ‘Kia‘ and among the 12 results is Cigar Connoisseurs which gave $500 to the Liberals.

Why would Cigar Connoisseurs show up among results for a search on Kia? Because Kiarash Kalhor is the owner. Get it? Kia…rash. Naturally, 0939090 B.C. LTD shows up as well, because Malkiat Sandhu is one of its principal officers, as in Mal-kia-t.

And to think that one frequent user has the temerity to call the database “finicky.”

Great Pacific Capital Corporation has never made a political contribution in B.C., but Great Pacific Capital Corp has given $283,130.

Search Jimmy Pattison, who owns Great Pacific, and there are no results. But search Jim Pattison and $346,740 in donations appear from various companies where he’s listed as the principal officer.

FleishmanHillard (how the company actually spells its name on its website) hasn’t given a penny. Nor has Fleishman Hillard, Fleishman and Hillard or Fleishman & Hillard. But Fleishman-Hillard – with a hyphen – has donated $6,625.

Search ‘Markin‘ and you’ll find that Allan Paul Markin has given $220,000 to the Liberals. Search Allan Markin and you’ll learn that through two – or maybe it’s three – different numbered companies in Alberta he’s donated another $240,000 to the Liberals, but no hide nor hair of that Allan Paul Markin character, even though they’re the same person.

Part of the fault with the Elections B.C. database rests with the political parties and how they enter and supply data, part with donors who sometimes opt to use slightly varied corporate names for donations to different parties, but the bulk of it lies with the database itself.

When a search of Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia doesn’t turn up any donations from the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, but a search of Kia turns up a donation from Cigar Connoisseurs it might be time to call tech support. Hint: suggest they look at the stemming or the lemmatisation algorithm. Or both.


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

June 30, 2014