April 17th last day for submissions to Election Finance Limits Committee – Public input needed to transform the “Wild Wild West” of political donations.

Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits meeting Feb 6, 2015

Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits meeting Feb 6, 2015

The final day for submissions to the Special Committee on Local Election Expense Limits is on April 17, 2015. There is also an opportunity to take an online survey on the committee’s website.

The Green Party of Vancouver was the only elector organization in Vancouver that made a presentation during the Public Hearing on April 9, 2015. The full presentation by Jordan Bober on behalf of the Green Party is available here in the draft Hansard record (audio archive starts at 17:14).

A number of very relevant points were raised. The Green Party spent in the neighbourhood of $100,000 and still managed to run a solid campaign with good media coverage. Bober noted that their campaign was fueled by many volunteers and that 85% of the donations came from individuals. Allowing spending “in the order of 25 cents to 50 cents per registered voter is a very reasonable-sounding figure.” With this change, he said, “we’re looking at campaigns that would be not in the $2 million to $3 million range but the $100,000-to-$200,000 range.”

A number of other key points were raised by the Vancouver Greens including the following:

  • The Province should require continuous reporting of spending between elections by elector organizations (disclosures not just in the election year), with a lower cap for those years between elections
  • The committee should also consider caps on donations and a discussion around contributor class (corporate / union), factors that are not being currently considered.
  • The Greens have a self-imposed limit of $5,000 per year per donor and they voluntarily do not take contributions from real estate developers or from fossil fuel companies.
  • Third party advertising during elections should have a smaller cap than for elector organizations.
  • The Greens only spent around 1.6% of the total declared campaign spending in Vancouver in 2014.

Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC also presented to the Special Committee (draft Hansard transcript is available here). He noted that tough, low limits for campaign spending can improve voter turnout, and cited the example of 60 percent turnout in Toronto. As well, 50 mayoral debates were held in Toronto leading up the their 2014 election. Travis also suggested looking at Quebec as another potential model, and to examine the limits that are put in place on the federal level.

Special Committee on Local Election Expense Limits

Public Hearing Vancouver, April 9, 2015 Special Committee on Local Election Expense Limits

The questions put forward by the Committee at the Public Hearing centred around spending limits. What should the spending limit be for an elector organization? For an independent candidate? Should an elector organization have one spending limit or should this be the sum of individual spending limits for each of the candidates running under its banner?

In comment to the Committee, citizens may wish to make a strong request for donation limits to be created in time for the 2018 municipal elections. The comments at the Vancouver Public Hearing by the Upper Kitsilano Residents Association (Marion Jamieson) and by Jillian Skeet provide a number of insights from engaged citizens.

We note that a model that has aggregate spending limits could encourage well-financed elector organizations to run large slates, while a single limit for an elector organization (and candidates running under their banner) could help keep spending in check. A lot will depend on the formula used for setting spending limits.

The Special Committee will deliver a report to the Legislature by June 12, 2015. It’s worth noting that all of the members of the committee had previously been elected to municipal office. The committee will consider a draft report on May 4, 2015 and hold a number of in-camera meetings for debate prior to the June 2015 deadline for submitting the report to the BC Legislature.

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