The BC NDP, a party that ran in last year’s provincial election on a promise to clean up the “wild west” of campaign finance, hauled in more than $4.5-million in contributions in the five months between forming government in the summer and enacting its promised reforms.
The change in government brought the New Democrats new friends in real estate, oil and gas, and construction – donors who opened their wallets to help the party dig itself out of its campaign debts before it enforced tough new rules.
Campaign-finance reform was a major issue in the May election, and NDP Leader John Horgan lambasted Liberal leader Christy Clark over lucrative, private cash-for-access fundraisers. Mr. Horgan vowed that the first law an NDP government introduced would ban “big money” from politics. After forming a minority government in July, the NDP provided a transition period that allowed all parties to raise funds with few limits until December.
In that time, businesses that had previously bankrolled the BC Liberals rushed to donate to the new NDP government after July 1.
“These are people who have never donated to the NDP – developers, oil and gas companies, if you took the list of corporate and association donors to the party after the election, you would think it was the donors’ list for the BC Liberals,” said Dermod Travis, executive director of the non-profit watchdog group Integrity BC.
In the five months after being ousted from power, the BC Liberals, which typically out-performed the NDP in corporate donations, raised less than $1.5-million.
The NDP went into the campaign carrying debt from the previous election. The BC Liberals had a war chest filled by corporate supporters who, under the existing law, faced virtually no limits on contributions.
Elections BC provided political donation disclosures for 2017 this week.
Attorney-General David Eby said in an interview on Tuesday that his government had to give parties time to adapt to the new rules.
“There is inevitably going to be a transition between when we formed government, and when we implemented legislation,” he said. “There was a concern about that, so we put forward a rule about how parties could use that money.”
The money raised under the old rules cannot be used for future elections, but can go toward previous debt and day-to-day operations.
Still, Mr. Eby acknowledged that the political contributions may raise questions about what the NDP’s new donors want.
“There’s a problem with big money in politics. It has a corrosive impact on public perceptions on why government makes decisions.”
The NDP formed a minority government in July, ending the Liberals’ 16-year reign.
That change transformed the pattern of donations from corporations in B.C. In the first six months of 2017, the governing Liberals raised $6.6-million, while the NDP opposition got just $1.6-million.
Bosa Properties donated almost $74,000 to the Liberals before the election, and nothing after it was toppled. The NDP got nothing from the development company before the election, and $67,000 after taking power.
The energy company Encana gave the Liberals more than $40,000 before the election – four times as much as it gave the NDP. After the election, the Liberals were frozen out, but the NDP got more than $30,000.
Aecon Group Inc., a construction firm that recently won a major contract on the Site C dam, gave the Liberals $10,000 before the election and nothing since. The NDP received nothing in opposition, but $5,000 after forming government.
The new rules ban union and corporate donations and out-of-province contributions. Individual donations are capped at $1,200 a year to a political party and its candidates.
This year, the three main parties started collecting an annual allowance that will be offered for at least the next five years, plus a continuing reimbursement of a portion of election costs to parties and candidates.