The BC Liberals have stopped disclosing political donations in "real time," saying they are instead focusing staff time on preparing for potential new fundraising rules under an NDP government.
The move caught the BC NDP off guard, but a spokesman for the party, which is preparing to work with the BC Green Party to oust the Liberals in a confidence vote, said New Democrats will stick with ongoing efforts to raise corporate, union and individual donations under the current system before they can get into power and ban union and corporate donations.
BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark had once touted the party's voluntary posting of weekly donation updates on its website as an admirable effort at clarity in light of criticism about the lack of fundraising limits that led to some of Canada's highest political donations being made in B.C.
But in an e-mail, party spokesman Emile Scheffel said the system is taking too much effort.
"Real-time reporting requires significant staff time, and we are now focused on evaluating how we will raise funds in accordance with likely new rules," he wrote, explaining the shift.
The party is turning away from providing ongoing information on donors to preparing for the introduction of a ban on corporate and union donations expected by an NDP government.
"The media and public had the opportunity to see who contributed to our party, and how much, during the pre-writ period and the election campaign. Unfortunately, they won't know who funded the BC NDP or Green Party campaigns until election financial reports are made public by Elections BC in August," Mr. Scheffel wrote.
Late Sunday, Stephen Smart, a spokesperson for Premier Christy Clark, said the government's throne speech will include a commitment to ban corporate and union donations. However, Ms. Clark has acknowledged her government appears certain to fail a confidence vote in the coming weeks.
NDP Leader John Horgan and his party have said there is little point in weakening their ability to engage in political combat with the Liberals so they have forged ahead raising money following the election. The NDP and Greens were searingly critical during the election campaign of the Liberals refusal to bring in donation limits and ban union and corporate donations.
Last year, the Liberals raised $12-million while the NDP raised $6.2-million in donations. The Green Party has already banned corporate and union donations to their party.
Indeed, the NDP are planning a fundraising event in Vancouver on June 23 featuring Mr. Horgan and other NDP MLAs that Glen Sanford, the party's deputy director, said is sold out. Regular tickets are $350, with group rates for a ticket buyer and three friends going for $1,000.
While the party continues to accept union and corporate donations, it is not making a specific outreach effort for those donations, Mr. Sanford said in an interview.
"We've said all along that we will play by the rules that are in place. As soon as we're government, we're going to change those rules. There's way too much at stake to give an advantage to Christy Clark and the Liberals," he said. "Anybody who donates to us knows we will change the rules. We have been very clear about that."
A governance agreement between the NDP and the BC Green Party commits to the corporate and union donation ban, as well as a ban on contributions from non-residents of B.C. There will also be limits placed on individual contributions. Other measures include a review of campaign finance and the B.C. Election Act.
Mr. Sanford said the Liberal real-time policy was a bid to change the subject on the need to ban corporate and union donations, and suggested the Liberal reversal appears an effort to conceal a drive to aggressively raise money ahead of changes to campaign-finance laws.
Mr. Sanford said his party has generally received most of its money from individual donations, and is making more appeals for small donations – such as last week's written outreach for "$5 or more" to help the party prepare for a possible snap election. The appeal was included in a letter to prospective donors signed by Mr. Sanford himself.
"We are developing and improving our techniques for reaching out to individuals and asking for donations, and that means we try to adjust the request amounts to what individuals can contribute," he said. "Our focus is on turning our attention to the new reality where political parties will only be funded by individuals."