The Leader of B.C.'s Opposition New Democrats is defending a private fundraising event this week – the same sort of gathering for which he has criticized the governing Liberals – by saying an election win would allow him to end such practices in the province.
NDP Leader John Horgan has been attempting to inoculate his party by saying it's a necessity for parties to raise money in the current system to compete, including through Thursday's leader's levee in Vancouver. Raising money now, Mr. Horan argues, will allow him to make good on a promise to ban corporate and union donations entirely.
"I'm calling this the last supper," Mr. Horgan said in an interview Monday. Mr. Horgan says he's been conveying that message to corporate donors: "'This is the last time the NDP is going to ask you for money because we are going to win the election and end your donations.'"
The issue of political fundraising has been shaping up as a potential campaign issue ahead of the spring election. In recent weeks, the Premier has responded by announcing an independent panel to review the province's election laws, which impose few limits on who can donate and none on the size of their donations. The governing Liberals have been criticized for, among other things, cash-for-access events in which donors pay thousands of dollars for a chance to sit down with the Premier.
A recent Globe and Mail investigation found lobbyists had made indirect donations by paying under their own names on behalf of clients and companies before they were reimbursed, which is illegal. The RCMP is now reviewing the fundraising activities of both parties.
Mr. Horgan has both railed against the current system – and the large corporate donations it allows – while also using it to fund his campaign. He cast those fundraising efforts as a fleeting necessity that can end if voters elect him and his New Democrats.
Mr. Horgan said his party's call for banning corporate and union donations sets him apart from the Liberals on the issue. He said he's confident that voters will understand the difference.
"The Liberals want to pretend I am the same as them when I am not," said Mr. Horgan, who noted his party has tabled legislation banning corporate and union donations six times. None of the bills has passed.
Tickets for this week's event are $475 a person or $3,000 for a group, available to anyone who wants to buy a ticket, the party said. About 500 people, including corporate and union donors, are expected.
The Liberals are also planning a leader's dinner before the campaign. The party's April 10 event will feature Premier Christy Clark on the last night before the writ drops to launch the 2017 election campaign.
Admission for the Liberal Leader's dinner cost $500 for single tickets or $5,000 for a table of 10. There were also $10,000 tickets for a "Premier's Circle Table," though the party website lists those tables as sold out.
Ms. Clark has promised to form an independent panel to make non-binding recommendations on political-fundraising reform, though the body would not begin its work until after the May 9 election. The Premier has said she is open to the possibility of imposing limits on donations, though she has ruled out replacing the current model with any system that would include public subsidies for political parties.
The province already spends $3-million to $4-million a year issuing tax credits to donors.
The Liberals have begun more frequently disclosing their own donations, a measure the NDP says is engineered to avoid dealing with fundraising. The government introduced a bill last week to increase disclosure requirements but it did not pass before the legislative session ended ahead of the election campaign.
The BC Green Party has already stopped accepting corporate and union donations.