Green Party Director commentary on Local Election Campaign Finance Limits

The B.C. legislature is considering implementing a series of recommendations that do very little to limit election spending in large urban centres such as Vancouver. Comments on the proposed changes were due by November 27, 2015. The comments below were submitted by Jordan Bober, Director, Green Party of Vancouver (reproduced with permission):

Green Party VanGreensNovember 27, 2015

I would like to thank the Special Committee on local Election Campaign Finance Limits for the opportunity to comment on the Committee’s final report. I and the Green Party of Vancouver has been a part of this process at every step, because we believe that campaign finance reform is imperative to restoring the health of our democracy.

I was present at the July 23, 2015 meeting held in Vancouver to offer initial feedback on the report together with representatives of other Vancouver elector organizations. The following is a summary of my main comments on the report.

Campaign limits formula fails large cities dominated by elector organizations.
While the Special Committee was struck in part due to calls from citizens in large urban centres like Vancouver to reign in uncontrolled local campaign donations and runaway local election spending, we are dismayed to find that the local campaign spending limit formula proposed by the Committee does little to address the inflated role of Big Money in Vancouver and other large municipalities.

For instance, by our calculations based on the proposed spending limits formula, an elector organization running a full slate of candidates in Vancouver (for Council, Park Board and School Board) could still spend a total exceeding $3 million in the 2018 civic election. This is not much lower than the record $3.4 million spent by Vision Vancouver in 2014, and certainly does nothing to help create a more fair, even playing field in Vancouver civic politics (or that of Burnaby, Surrey and other large municipalities whose politics are dominated by elector organizations).

Failure to limit spending in non­-election years a concern.
We are concerned that the spending limits being proposed, inadequate as they are for a city like Vancouver, are proposed to apply exclusively to the period from January 1st of an election year to the close of General Voting Day. A lack of reporting and controls on contributions to and spending by elector organizations between election years opens the notion of spending limits easy to circumvent, as large sums invested in party organizing between elections is every bit as much a campaign expenditure as the sums invested in the months leading up to an election period itself.

Further, this loophole makes it possible for elector organizations or candidates to borrow large sums to spend during an election period (as Vision Vancouver did in 2014, spending half a million dollars more than it raised in the period), only to pay off those debts during a non-­election year via contributions that they have no obligation to report. We believe it is important that citizens know which individuals and corporations are financially backing civic candidates and elector organizations as a safeguard against corruption and conflict of interest.

Absence of contribution limits a major disappointment.
While we understand that the Special Committee was not mandated to propose limits on the source or amount of local political contributions, we must nevertheless be on the record as being deeply disappointed by the lack of movement towards the regulation of political contributions as part of this process.

What we hear from the citizens of Vancouver again and again is that the biggest issue with local political finance for them is the influence of very large donors on the political process. In particular, citizens are right to question the motivations of for­-profit corporations, unions representing city workers, and private real estate developers when they donate, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars even in the absence of tax incentives for doing so. Such contributions create, at the very least, the perception that large political contributions are rewarded with political decision­-making skewed in the donors’ favour.

We consider local political ​contribution ​limits, as opposed to merely spending limits, the far superior policy tool for achieving the objectives of the Special Committee to ensure local elections are fair and democratic. By simply banning corporate and union donations and limiting individual donations, local election campaign spending would be drastically reduced as a result.

Thank you for your consideration of this feedback.

Jordan Bober
Member of the Board of Directors, Green Party of Vancouver

(Send by email)

The Green Party of Vancouver also made a series of recommendations on Local Elections Expense Limits on April 9, 2015. These recommendations are reproduced in the following post:
Finance Reform: Green Party on Local Elections Expense Limits

Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr attempted to have a motion brought forward to reform financial contributions to municipal political parties on July 21, 2015. This motion was later buried by Vision Vancouver Councillors without even hearing from speakers. The NPA members of Council would have been willing to listen to speakers.
Council Motion July 21 (could have transformed) Vancouver politics: Ban corporate/union donations, limit dollar amounts, require continuous reporting. Buried by Clr. Andrea Reimer.

The full text of Adriane Carr’s motion, Vancouver Response to Recommendations of the Special Committee on Local Election Expense Limits, can be found below:

Video Clip of this motion

There are many reasons why the province’s proposed changes to B.C.’s finance reform legislation don’t go far enough:
What did people say about local election finance reform? Draft recommendations fall short. Nov 27 deadline for comments (CityHallWatch, November 26, 2015)

$3 MILLION per municipal party (Vancouver) election spending ‘limit’ recommendation going to BC legislature. Huge gaps. Public comments until Nov 27 (Fri) (CityHallWatch, October 22, 2015)

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