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NDP letter asking for donations has some businesses seeing red

NDP Leader Adrian Dix likes to talk about a balanced approached to governing. It now appears that philosophy extends to fundraising as well.

Some members of the B.C. business community are questioning the message they say is embedded in a fundraising letter that the New Democrats have been sending out to people who have financially supported only the B.C. Liberals in the past.

The missives are being sent out under the name of Jan O'Brien, provincial secretary of the party, but Mr. Dix's imprimatur is prominent. The letter begins by informing the recipient that building a relationship with the business community is a top priority of the NDP Leader. It talks about how the prospective B.C. premier believes a strong private sector is key to economic development in the province – in other words, he is not a wild-eyed advocate of the communist collective.

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And just so the recipients understand they would not be the first business leaders to make such a donation, the communique makes it clear that Mr. Dix has appreciated the support he's received from other members of the financial sector. In an attempt to dispel any concern that an NDP government would favour unions, the letter says a Dix administration would include everyone at the table.

Then Ms. O'Brien gets to the point.

The letter documents the donation total that the recipient – or his or her company – has made to the Liberal Party over a specified number of years.

"It is our hope that you will adopt a balanced approach to your support in the lead up to the election in May," it states. "I am asking your organization to make a contribution in the range of $5,000 now to show your commitment to a balanced approach to government."

It then provides a link to a secure website where the person can immediately make a contribution.

At another time, those receiving a letter of this nature might have thought nothing of it. But in the context of the current election, one in which the New Democrats are decided favourites, it takes on a different hue.

Those getting such a dispatch might be forgiven for thinking they were being sent a pointed directive: We know who you are, we know who you've supported in the past, and it might be wise given the current political environment if you made a little donation to our party.

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"You could say this is normal politics or you could say it's a not-so-subtle strong-armed tactic," said one business person who received the letter but did not want his name used. "[It's implying], 'You have never supported us before, but we're going to win, and we will remember who did and who did not help us this time.'"

Another business person characterized the letter as a "political shakedown."

It will not surprise you that the NDP says that was not the intent at all. The letter was simply intended, Ms. O'Brien told me, to reach out to corporations that have shown in the past they are willing to donate to political parties to see if they would consider the NDP.

"As part of the democratic process, political parties fund their campaigns with political donations," Ms. O'Brien said. "But people have a choice, absolutely. We've just asked them to take a balanced approach to campaign donations."

But that's not what the letter says. It effectively states that the company should donate to the NDP as well as the Liberals in the name of taking a "balanced approach to government" – not campaign donations. Ms. O'Brien did not seem completely comfortable trying to explain what the letter meant in that regard. Or that it implies that people shouldn't have a choice – that they should donate to both main parties.

And, of course, that's wrong. People should be able to donate to whomever they want, and they certainly shouldn't be leaned on by officials of parties that may soon take office and told that they should send some cash their way.

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If there is any good news in all this, it's the fact that should the NDP form government, it has vowed that donations from corporations and unions will be outlawed. Let's hope letters such as the one Ms. O'Brien authored will be a thing of the past as well.

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