New official figures show the BC Liberals and opposition New Democrats could lose millions if political donations from unions and corporations were banned, underscoring the deep resistance of the governing party to moving British Columbia in line with the limits and rules adopted by Ottawa and other provinces.
Elections BC data released Wednesday afternoon show the Liberals hauled in twice as much money as the NDP last year – $13.1-million compared with $6.2-million. Liberal figures show nearly two thirds of their money – $7.7-million – came from a relatively small collection of corporate and other business donors. That dwarfs the $1.8-million donated to the NDP by unions.
The data show that even with all the union and corporate money stripped away, the Liberals still received almost a million more dollars from individual donations than their main rival, $4.7-million compared with the NDP's $3.8-million.
In recent years, the Liberals have consistently brought in more money from corporations and other businesses than any other source. Such donors have accounted for about 60 per cent of the party's total fundraising. In contrast, the corporate and business money typically make up less than five per cent of the NDP's donations, except for pre-election and election years. Such donations jumped to 14 per cent in 2012 and 20 per cent in the year of the 2013 election, as poll numbers suggested – incorrectly – that the New Democrats were heading for a decisive victory.
Both parties have been dogged by sustained national and international coverage of the province's "Wild West" political finance rules, which impose almost no limits or rules on how much individuals, corporations, unions and foreign agents can give. A recent Globe and Mail investigation found that one of the few rules – that corporations not mask their contributions by donating through individuals – is frequently broken.
Elections BC launched an investigation into indirect political contributions and other potential contraventions of the Election Act as a result of The Globe's report.
The probe was then handed over to the RCMP, which will look at tens of thousands of dollars in multiple donations made by power brokers who paid under their own names with personal credit cards. Some registered lobbyists acknowledged to The Globe that they were illegally buying Liberal fundraising tickets on behalf of their clients and companies and being reimbursed.
Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-partisan government watchdog, said the numbers released Wednesday show "the obscene amount of money in B.C. politics."
Mr. Travis said he compared how much the ruling BC Liberals spent in two recent non-election years with the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, a province with a similar number of voters. Alberta had a cap on corporate donations prior to corporate and union donations being banned in 2015, he said. In 2012, the Liberals spent $8.7-million compared with the Progressive Conservatives' $2.5-million, he said. In 2014, they spent $7.2-million compared with $3.5-million by their counterparts in Alberta, Mr. Travis added.
"The idea that we can't ban union and corporate donations without restricting a political party's ability to operate is ridiculous, we've just gotten used to the idea here in British Columbia that this is how much money they need to keep going," he said.
Included in Wednesday's release were Elections BC figures on how much parties spent last year on advertising and polling. The Liberals spent close to $2-million on advertising as well as polling and research costs, while the NDP spent less than $100,000 in those arenas. The Liberals also sprung for $573,513 worth of social functions while their main rivals spent $246.40.
2016 donations, by the numbers:
Percentage raised from corporate and business donors
Liberals, 59 per cent; NDP, 9 per cent.
Percentage raised from unions
Liberals, 0.1 per cent; NDP, 28 per cent.
The Liberals spent $1.2-million on media ads; NDP, $42,693,
The Liberals' polling and research cost about $956,803. The NDP spent $43,837.
Source: Elections BC