“Let them eat steak?” – The case for donation limits. $230,000 directed by one individual in 2014

The Keg RestaurantsCampaign contributors are allowed to give local political parties any amount of cash. There are no limits. Does this lead to undue influence by wealthy individuals over the outcome of an election?

The largest declared individual donation to the Vision Vancouver campaign in 2014 came from David Aisenstat who provided a single $100,000 cash contribution. To put this into perspective, this is more than the total cash contributions to the Greens, One City, Vancouver 1st, the Cedar Party or Public Education Project. In addition, Aisenstat directed another $130,000 in corporate contributions from The Keg Restaurants, Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House and from the Charles F. White Corporation. In other words, David Aisenstat directed $230,000 into Vision Vancouver’s coffers in 2014 alone.

Other jurisdictions have implemented donations caps. In the City of Toronto, individuals cannot contribute more than $5,000 in total to all candidates (combined) who run for Council positions. Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr had included cumulative contribution limits (of $5000), a ban on corporate and union donations and annual reporting requirements in a motion that was debated on July 21, 2015. While this motion could have transformed Vancouver politics, it was instead buried by Vision Councillor Andrea Reimer.

Over the last two terms, every rezoning that has gone to Council has passed with a majority vote. Vision is on record and has always voted as a block in favour of the rezoning applications. 7 votes of out 11 appear to be “always in the bag” for rezonings. Is it possible to draw a conclusion other than that the Council majority is beholden to the wishes of their campaign contributors?

David Aisenstat Vision donor

Vision Vancouver is not the only beneficiary of large donations. Since 2010, David Aisenstat has directed over $204,000 at the BC Liberals. This included a $150,000 contribution via Keg Restaurants in May of 2013. Is a modern translation for “let them eat cake” simply “let them eat steak”? Do corporations rule both Vancouver City Hall and the BC Legislature?

Aisenstat BC Liberals

Does the reluctance of the BC Liberals to deal with issue of local election finance reforms partly come from the fact that it would expose the need for similar reforms for provincial elections?

The recommendations by the MLAs (5 BC Liberal and 3 BC NDP) who sat on the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits would do nothing of substance to change the status quo on campaign finance. The endorsed recommendations would still allow local Vancouver parties to spend $3 million during the 2018 campaign period if they run a full slate. There are no limits planned for individual donations, no bans on corporate or union donations, and no requirements for annual reporting by local parties (elector organizations).

While corporations can’t vote, campaign donations certainly can play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of elections. Individuals who can direct the resources of corporations have helped both Vision Vancouver and the BC Liberals get re-elected. One of the #25klunch meme entries from Pete Quily made a comment about the motivation behind large contributions:

#25klunch Pete Quily[Update] We received a question on twitter about the possible motivation behind large campaign contributions from restaurants. We can only speculate here. Municipalities do have considerable control over licensing issues (for example, issuing primary liquor licenses). The city also has the power to rezone property, permit restaurants in parks and on city land (privatization), and Vancouver has recently extended patio hours.

References

It is possible to search the campaign contributions for BC provincial parties here. The disclosure forms for the 2014 municipal election can be found here (there are a number of other names to watch, as a number of individuals have directed large donations to both provincial and municipal parties).

The final report of the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits is available here. Our analysis of the report is available at this link.

MLAs on the Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits were Jackie Tegart, Selina Robinson, Mike Bernier, Gary Holman, Marvin Hunt, Jenny Kwan, Linda Reimer and Sam Sullivan.

Video: Stamp Stampede (a commentary on unlimited campaign spending in the United States)

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