Ahem. The concerns I have expressed here at CityCaucus.com about campaign donations through our Know Your Donor series seem to have a slight "I told you so" ring about them with today's cover feature of the Vancouver Sun titled "Who Owns the Mayor?" City writer Frances Bula chalks it up as a great success for MSM, but somehow forgets to note the striking conclusion of the Sun's story: the biggest money in BC's civic elections has been poured into Vision Vancouver.
We always like to point out the fact that Vision Vancouver have been in breach of the Vancouver Charter by not providing supplementary disclosures about who's paying their debt. No one seems to have the ability to force Vision to come clean, which is why we hope that these rules are tightened up by BC's Local Elections Task Force. It was a point I made to Task Force chair Minister Bill Bennett in a conversation we had back in February.
The Sun's story shows that CUPE is far and away the biggest financial influencer in civic politics, and Vision Vancouver is the biggest recipient of their members' hard-earned union dues. But in second place comes Hollyhock's top cat Joel Solomon and Rubbermaid heiress Carol Newell. Bob Penner's Strategic Communications, a key supplier of polling and strategic communications support for Renewal Partners, unions and the NDP as well as being on Vision's inside circle, placed third.
However, The Sun's analysis of the numbers only includes 2008 campaign disclosures. To get a real picture on the kind of cash these guys are throwing around, you need to look at the money provided by Renewal/Solomon, Mike Magee and Stratcom in 2007's supplementary disclosure from Vision Vancouver. In that document Vision appears to have had some very lucrative days, including back to back $10,000 cheques from Solomon, and $15,000 worth of donations by Mike Magee to Vision Vancouver over the span of 2 months in late 2006.
I should point out the significance of November 2006 to Vision Vancouver. It was one year past the 2005 election that Vision lost to Sam Sullivan and the NPA. Unlike the NPA who always end campaigns in the black, Vision was $200,000 in debt. According to the 2007 supplementary disclosure document, 12 months after the election money began to flow into Vision's coffers from the Hollyhock gang.
Not only was the party on the way to finding its way out of debt, it hired two part-time staff, and a young staffer named Kevin Quinlan suddenly began his Vancouver Kid blog which took aim at the NPA. In November 2007, with the help of Vision's then Financial Agent Geoff Meggs, Vision Vancouver proudly proclaimed that they were "debt-free" after carrying the 2005 $200K debt for 2 years. A closer examination of Meggs' numbers showed that in fact because of ongoing party expenses, Vision were $54,000 in the hole at the time of that disclosure.
Today, Vision Vancouver are still enormously in debt from their 2008 campaign. The number we've heard from the Treasurer's report at their Wednesday AGM is they are today carrying a debt of $290,000. Apparently undeterred by the lack of money, Vision continues to burn through cash. For example, look at how Allen Garr blithely plays down the party's debt in his column from today:
They now have a full time executive director, a fundraiser and two more staffers. And if you want evidence of how they have effectively occupied the centre of this city's political spectrum, look no further than the treasurer's report presented at the meeting. I am not referring to the fact that after the last election they were over $100,000 in the hole. I want to draw your attention to the graphic breakdown of dollars received. Almost half (47.5 per cent) came from corporations. And 25 per cent came from unions with the rest from individuals.
Gee, I bet Vision wishes they really were only $100,000 in the hole. Nice try, Allen. Looks like your guys are going to have to do even more dishes to pay this debt off. By the way, how's that bank director job going?
We shouldn't kid ourselves about Vision's ability to raise money. The Hollyhock crowd are masters at finding ways to fund their political goals for systemic social change. When it comes to donations from "individuals" in the five figures from Amy Robertson, Carol Newell and other folks with deep pockets, I guess we should really be impressed that the bad ol' developers aren't able to keep up with CUPE and Cortes Island, eh?
I think those who read today's Sun story might conclude that our system is being abused, and the biggest abusers are the folks running Vancouver City Hall today. It would have been nice if that had been the headline, but kudos to the Sun and the work of Lori Culbert and Chad Skelton for giving this story the high profile it deserves.
Minister Bill Bennett has been talking to many groups and individual throughout BC as part of his Local Government Elections Task Force set up by Premier Campbell last October. If you are concerned about Vision Vancouver, how they raise money, and their lack of transparency and openness, you can still submit your concerns to the Minister by visiting their web page here.