American donors to civic campaigns get double whammy

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Chicago coming in last for the 2016 Olympics bid was not the only bad news for the USA today

As we've been reporting here over the last 10 months, it's been a bit of a wild west attitude in BC's major cities when it comes to campaign contributions. Whether it's the number of American donors who've contributed to or directly supported Mayor Gregor Robertson's campaign, or the sheer size of some contributions, the time has come for electoral reform.

My colleague Mike Klassen has posted a number of interesting stories of recent donors to Vancouver's elected officials. He noted that a number of prominent Americans have taken a real interest in the outcome of Vancouver's civic election. As part of our Know Your Donor series, Klassen helped to highlite some of Mayor Robertson's more interesting contributors.

The debate surrounding campaign finance reform began to heat up a number of years ago when both the NPA and Vision campaigns started exceeding well over one million dollars. In fact, Vision Vancouver even accepted a single donation from John Lefebvre, an Internet gambling tycoon, in the amout of $170,000. This was likely the largest single donation ever made to a civic campaign in BC. According to CanWest news:

Lefebvre, 55, was arrested by FBI agents at his Malibu home and jailed on charges of conspiring to promote illegal gambling by transferring billions of dollars of cyberspace bets placed by U.S. citizens with overseas gambling companies. His business partner, former Calgarian Stephen Lawrence, was arrested in the Virgin Islands and faces the same charges.

The Premier of BC announced today at the Union of BC Municipalities that his government will likely put an end to civic politicians accepting big contributions from foreign donors.  He also announced that he plans to put in place a new independent Chief Electoral Officer to monitor civic campaigns. You can expect that the size of donations, as well as their source will come under a new set of regulations in advance of the civic elections in 2011. It is also likely that civic parties will also have to begin reporting annually their income/expenses in order to provide the public with more transparency.

So in other words, no months of chasing Coun. Raymond Louie for months trying to figure out who gave him $240,000 for his mayoral nomination campaign.

The following is a copy of the Premier's news release he issued earlier today:

PROVINCE TO FORM LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTION TASK FORCE

VANCOUVER – The Province will form a special joint task force to modernize local government election rules.

This special joint task force will be tasked with undertaking deliberations and presenting recommendations on writing a new Local Government Election Act. It will be stand-alone legislation that will modernize election rules and create a single, provincewide electoral process for local government elections. This new act will designate the chief electoral officer of British Columbia as the independent supervisor, administrator and enforcer of a common local government election process.

The task force will be co-chaired by the new Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) president and the Minister of Community and Rural Development. It will include two other UBCM designates and two government MLAs. 

The task force will consider opportunities to adapt the principles of the provincial Election Act to local elections such as disclosure requirements and changes that will improve fairness, accountability, transparency and public participation. It may consider such issues as the current election cycle of three years and whether voting rights should be restored for business and industry that pay property taxes. 

The recommendations of the task force are to be presented to the provincial government no later than May 30, 2010, after which a new Local Government Elections Act will be presented to the Legislature in time for the 2011 municipal elections.

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American donors took a second hit today at UBCM when delegates voted in favour of entered Vancouver Councillor Ellen Woodsworth's motion asking to have their donations restricted. Kudos to Woodsworth and Professor Kennedy Stewart for their efforts to get this passed.

It may not get much attention from the media over the coming weeks, but what the Premier announced today will likely have impacts on future civic campaigns for years to come.

UPDATE: We reported erroneously that Woodsworth's motion passed, when in fact the motion was not tabled due to time restrictions. TheTyee.ca reports that:

Campbell's announcement came just moments after the UBCM policy convention adjourned without debating two controversial motions related to campaign finance. One would have asked the province to set limits on both the amount of money that individuals (or organizations) can give to local candidates (or organizations) as well as the amount of money that can be spent; that resolution also called for a ban on money "from sources outside of Canada." The second unheard resolution would have required similar disclosure and restrictions among individuals who sought nomination but failed to become party candidates.

As a motion approved by the UBCM is non-binding for the Province, who set municipal elections laws, then having the Premier commit to reform is a better outcome. We still tip our hat to Coun. Woodsworth and Kennedy Stewart for their efforts to promote this change.

2 Comments

Perhaps what motivates Vision to be a green party isn't the environment.

On balance, the biggest loser from this announcement has to be Gregor Robertson (yes, I know he endorsed Woodsworth motion, but how couldn't he?) and Vision Vancouver. The former because of the well-documented sources of funding from the United States.

For Vision, who harped on the donors issue while in opposition, but have not disclosed current sources of funding nor who might be carrying their $250,000 campaign debt today, greater transparency will finally force them to practice what they preached.

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