Canadians are strongly opposed to allowing lobbyists to buy their way into exclusive political fundraisers featuring party leaders, according to a new Nanos Research survey.
The Globe and Mail reported last month that the Liberal Party frequently allows lobbyists to attend what it calls “Laurier Club” donor-appreciation events, which feature Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or a member of his cabinet. These events restrict attendance to individuals who have donated at least $1,500 to the Liberal Party.
The Conservative Party and the NDP also hold donor-appreciation events, but they do not disclose fundraising details. All parties will be required to publish attendance lists for fundraisers under new federal legislation that will take effect in December.
More than 80 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were either not comfortable or somewhat not comfortable when parties allow registered lobbyists, who contribute $1,500 a year to the party, to attend fundraising events featuring the party leader that are only open to top donors.
Only 3 per cent of respondents said they were comfortable with the practice, while a further 9 per cent said they were somewhat comfortable. The remaining 7 per cent said they were unsure.
“This should be a big signal to parties, not just the Liberal Party, but any party, that they have to be very careful and circumspect in terms of the line between contributions and registered lobbyists," pollster Nik Nanos said.
The survey of 1,000 Canadian adults was commissioned by The Globe and Mail and was conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 4 as part of an omnibus hybrid phone and online survey. The margin of error for a random survey of that size is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Last month’s Globe report analyzed the first 72 fundraisers disclosed by the Liberal Party since introducing a new policy in early 2017 that promised greater transparency and new restrictions on the attendance of lobbyists at party fundraisers.
The party announced those new rules after The Globe published several stories in 2016 about small, private Liberal fundraisers featuring the Prime Minister or cabinet ministers that critics labelled “cash-for-access” events.
The Liberal Party said its new rules would ensure that there is no preferential access to government, nor the appearance of preferential access. The rules stated that the party would ban lobbyists from attending fundraising events if they are registered to lobby the guest speaker or his or her department. The original rules made no mention of exceptions.
However, the party would later allow an exception to that rule if the event is a “donor-appreciation” function such as a gathering of the Laurier Club, which is for individuals who contribute at least $1,500 a year to the party. That amount is just shy of the maximum contribution allowed under federal election financing laws.
The exemption effectively means that while the Liberal Party is banning lobbyists from attending fundraisers featuring the target of their lobbying when the entry fee is relatively low, the party is waiving this ban for lobbyists who donate $1,500 a year.
The Globe analysis found that of the 72 Liberal fundraisers, 32 were Laurier Club events. The Globe also found more than 200 instances of lobbyists at Liberal fundraisers and more than three-quarters of those instances involved lobbyists who were registered at the time to lobby the cabinet minister speaking at the event.
Mr. Nanos said that while all parties should take note of the public concern in this area, it is particularly important for the party in power because the Prime Minister and cabinet are in a position to make policy decisions that directly affect the interests of lobbyists and their clients.
“I think it’s one of those things where the government of the day, in this particular case the Liberals and Justin Trudeau, have to exercise an even higher level of caution on the interaction between lobbyists, fundraising and government decision-makers," he said. "We have to realize that the default for Canadians is mistrust of politicians and concern about the influence of lobbyists so I think for the Liberals, they have to be exceptionally sensitive.”