The BC Liberal Party has now returned more than $174,000 in donations, as the issue of political fundraising again rears its head on the campaign trail and as the RCMP continues its probe of illegal contributions.
The Mounties began their investigation – which is being assisted by a special prosecutor – last month after a Globe and Mail report found some lobbyists made political contributions under their own names and were later reimbursed by clients or companies. Indirect donations are illegal in British Columbia, one of few limits placed on political fundraising in a province that has come to be described as the "Wild West" of campaign finance.
Elections BC released updated financial reports Wednesday and the documents revealed that the Liberals have now returned $174,313 in donations dating back to 2010. The BC New Democratic Party has returned $10,500 in contributions made since 2012.
The Liberals had said last month that the party would return $92,874 in "prohibited" donations.
A party spokesperson in a statement offered little detail on the increase in returned contributions.
"We have been clear that our thorough internal review of contributions is ongoing. We continue to identify prohibited or incorrectly attributed donations, and refund them as required," the spokesperson wrote.
The party has said it would "co-operate fully if contacted by the RCMP or the special prosecutor." The latest statement did not address a question on whether the Liberals had been contacted.
The Mounties were asked by Elections BC to investigate indirect contributions and other potential contraventions of the Election Act. When the investigation was announced, the agency noted it was not targeting a specific political party.
The RCMP has not said how long its investigation might take and a spokesperson Wednesday said there was no new information to release.
Glen Sanford, deputy director of the provincial NDP, said "The heart of the problem is the fact that we continue to allow big money to have an influence on politics in B.C."
"That's why [NDP] Leader John Horgan says, if elected, we will ban union and corporate donations," he said in an interview.
Mr. Sanford said it is possible individual donors will contact the NDP moving forward to flag problems with their contributions. He said the party is in the process of returning $790 it just learned was improperly donated, though that contribution was not listed in the documents released Wednesday.
The Liberals raised $13.1-million in donations last year, while the NDP raised $6.2-million. Nearly two-thirds of the money raised by the Liberals – $7.7-million – came from a relatively small collection of corporate and business donors. Of the money donated to the NDP, $1.8-million was from unions.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said in an interview that he'd like to see the special prosecutor act before voters head to the polls May 9.
"Voters have a right to know how many people are involved in this situation," he said.
The documents released by Elections BC include the names of contributors who have had donations returned. They include Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs Byng Giraud and a less senior manager, Marian Ngo. The documents say more than $56,000 was returned to Mr. Giraud and Ms. Ngo for contributions made since 2013, but the reports do not provide further detail.
A Woodfibre LNG spokesperson wrote in a statement that the company, Mr. Giraud and Ms. Ngo have "always been upfront and transparent in reporting any donations."
"As you are aware, there is an investigation into political donations under way. Until the investigation is complete, we are advised not to make any further public comments," the statement read.