IntegrityBC accepts gauntlet, does tally

by: Dermod Travis

Over the past few weeks IntegrityBC has been highlighting cases of prohibited political donations to the B.C. Liberal party which, not surprisingly, has gotten under the skin of the B.C. Liberals who have fallen back on that tried and true excuse “hey, what about those guys.”

In a letter to IntegrityBC, Liberal party executive director Mike McDonald called on the organization to treat possible prohibited donations to the B.C. NDP “with the same vigor (sic) and determination” that they had directed “towards recent donations made to the B.C. Liberal party.”

In an interview on CKNW, McDonald had countered IntegrityBC’s assertion that the organization had not found one prohibited donation to the NDP with the claim that the Liberals had discovered such a donation.

So, what about those guys?

McDonald was right about that one donation. In response to a complaint filed by IntegrityBC before McDonald wrote the organization, Elections BC confirmed that the NDP had accepted a $500 prohibited donation from The Realistic Success Recovery Society.

But according to party filings from 2006 to 2011, the Liberals have accepted and later returned 22 donations from charities, while the NDP returned two.

The Liberal party also reported remitting $4,920 to Elections BC in membership fees in its 2011 filing. This amount represents an estimated 492 incomplete membership applications, which were treated as prohibited contributions as well. The NDP did not report any incomplete membership applications in its party filings.

These filings do not include prohibited donations that came to light this year. In May, IntegrityBC revealed that since 2009 the Liberals had accepted $3,370 in donations from TRIUMF, a registered charity, and in June a $350 donation from the Vancouver Art Gallery Association, while the NDP accepted that $500 donation from The Realistic Success Recovery Society.

Now IntegrityBC doesn’t believe for a moment that the Liberals hold meetings with donors where government policy is on the block for a $350 donation, but consider for a moment what the head of TRIUMF, Nigel Lockyer, said about the reasoning behind their donations: “It’s a cost-effective, time-effective way to interact with the people in the government. That’s the way the system works.”

According to Lockyer, the donations were made so that he could speak to B.C. Liberal MLAs Moira Stillwell and Richard Lee, as well as to Premier Christy Clark at B.C. Liberal party fundraising receptions.

And amazingly TRIUMF’s donations just kept slipping into the Liberal party’s coffers year after year after year.

Or consider what the Liberal party said about a “power lunch” they hosted featuring the Minister of Open Government Margaret MacDiarmid: it was a chance for Surrey businesspeople to bring “issues forward for discussion and response before the next election.”

IntegrityBC has also expressed concern over donations that are made with personal cheques that are later expensed to other third-parties, potentially masking the donor’s real identity.

In April, the Vancouver Sun reported that former Liberal MLA Wildred Hurd had expensed $2,045 in donations to Simon Fraser University so that he could attend seven Liberal party fundraisers. B.C.’s Election Act forbids donors from helping to conceal the real source of a donation.

In 2002, it was the Liberal government themselves that passed Bill 59 prohibiting donations not only from registered charities (which were already precluded from making political contributions under the federal Income Tax Act), but also organizations with a charitable purpose that are not registered as charities.

As then B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant said: “someone who donates to a charity is not thinking that the charity will use their funds to go off and participate in election campaigns and support them.”

And that Income Tax Act is another good reason that such donations shouldn’t slip through the cracks since they could theoretically put an organization’s charitable status at risk.

But IntegrityBC believes the government must now go further and end the perception of the influence of big money in B.C. politics once and for all.

IntegrityBC’s “Who really runs BC?” campaign is calling for an overhaul of B.C.’s antiquated electoral finance laws, including an outright ban on corporate and union donations and a cap on individual donations.

These measures were brought into force at the federal level by the Liberal party in 2002 and later toughened in 2006 by the Conservative party, the very two parties that form the underpinnings to the B.C. Liberal party.

And already the B.C. NDP, the B.C. Conservative party, the B.C. Green party and B.C. First support similar measures in British Columbia.

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IntegrityBC is a non-partisan voice championing accountability and integrity in BC politics. By empowering British Columbians, IntegrityBC hopes to changes politics in BC and allow citizens to regain trust in our government.

Contact:

Dermod Travis

Executive Director, IntegrityBC

250-590-5126