NPA and Vision Vancouver campaign disclosures mean nothing without dollar figures attached

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      One of the greatest pleasures of being a journalist is forcing politicians to address issues that they would rather not discuss.

      On July 24 in the interest of enhancing transparency, I wrote a column urging NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe to reveal his party's donations on a weekly basis.

      On July 31, I followed this up with another column noting that the NPA and Vision Vancouver were refusing to promise to release financial donations before the election.

      We also posted an online survey asking if municipal political parties should publicly disclose financial contributions on a website within a week of them being received. Nearly 90 percent responded "yes".

      On October 8, Straight reporter Carlito Pablo revealed that a candidate for mayor in the City of North Vancouver, George Pringle, had chosen to disclose his contributions on a website as they came in. 

      “I hope to start a trend,” Pringle told the Straight. “I hope to lead by example and other people will follow my example. If enough people do it, then the province will take on the idea and, hopefully, they’ll make it a law for the entire province.”

      Still, the NPA and Vision Vancouver refused to go along with the idea.

      Then at a public debate at Langara College on October 22, I asked LaPointe why he wouldn't demonstrate transparency by disclosing donations before the election. His answer was that this was a "valid question", but suggested that Vision Vancouver should be the first to do this.

      So then I asked Vision Vancouver's leader, Mayor Gregor Robertson, if he would disclose his party's donations before voting day. He responded that Vision Vancouver was "working within the laws as they exist today"."

      In other words, neither party was prepared to provide this information more than a week ago, notwithstanding LaPointe's claim that transparency was his policy hill to die on.

      That prompted this amusing tweet from city-hall watchdog Bob Mackin.

      Click to enlarge.

      Today in an abrupt about-face, LaPointe now says that he will reveal a list of NPA campaign donors by November 7.

      That prompted Vision Vancouver to declare that it, too, will also publicize its list of campaign contributors this weekend.

      However, neither party has explicitly stated whether it will disclose the amounts given by each donor.

      Without dollar figures, these lists aren't worth the paper they're printed on and really amount to a phony form of transparency.

      There would have been no transparency in 2011 had NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton included developer Rob Macdonald's name on a list of donors before the election without disclosing the size of his gift: $960,000.

      If Vision Vancouver and the NPA think they can get away with just revealing names and no dollar amounts, they're wrong. 

      This will simply force more residents to cast ballots for either COPE's Meena Wong or independent candidate Bob Kasting.

      That's because the level of mistrust over who's paying for all those billboards around town is higher than it's ever been before.

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      6 Comments

      CityHallWatch Randy

      Oct 30, 2014 at 9:32pm

      A critical detail to watch: the period of time covered by the lists. I think the official period for election donations started January 1, 2014. But the parties, especially Vision Vancouver, could have been collecting funds since the last election (November 2011). So WHAT period will they report in their lists of donors? Ideally, from November 2011 to date. And what is counted? For example -- does Vision report who paid for things like the $25,000 lunches?

      MD

      Oct 31, 2014 at 10:18am

      CS
      "This will simply force more residents to cast ballots for either COPE's Meena Wong or independent candidate Bob Kasting."

      It won't "force" anyone to do anything, notwithstanding how much you may want it to.

      In any event, COPE has enough transparency problems of its own of an entirely different matter and the idea that theirs is preferable to the others is a little odd. COPE can't keep its own couple hundred members happy regarding its internal transparency.

      Not knowing who funds the large parties to what degree is a problem, but advocating that others have no choice but to be "forced" to vote for a party that can't keep its own internal rules transparent is hardly a solution. Hey, we cant get the small stuff right, but don't worry, we are aces at the big things.

      Amounts would help for specific analysis, but all you really need to do to make some educated guesses is look at the ability of those who donate to pay, and what the donors may have to gain by donating, and their relationship with city hall and the parties that have governed, and the elected representatives, in the past.

      If a large corporate donor or individual of wealth appears on the list, and if they have a history, then you can probably assess their relative level of influence from past experience.

      It is highly likely Bob Rennie isn't going to be at the bottom of the list of donors when it comes to dollar amounts anymore than Joe Schmoe of no fixed address will be at the top of the list in terms of dollar amounts.

      If a voter has not already made transparency of donations their ballot box question, the release of names without numbers will have zero impact on anyone who has not.

      Ideally, dollar amounts would be ideal and we will eventually get a full reform package like we have/had a the federal level, but you don't need them to form a general and reasonable narrative.

      Dave

      Oct 31, 2014 at 10:38am

      Great job putting the pressure on them, Charlie. Campaign financing is one of the biggest threats to democratic elections today because it gives those with money more ability to affect the results than those without. It's made the US system into a joke, and Canada is not far behind. The first step is full transparency.

      If Lapointe has the integrity he claims, he'll publish the numbers. And this really should be a top priority for voters - this is an opportunity to set an exciting precedent and make sure we have representation that responds to citizens FIRST, not wealthy party associates.

      Pete Quily

      Oct 31, 2014 at 6:26pm

      And it's important to ask NPA, Vision & all parties to fully disclose ALL donations, including #darkmoney they legally don't have to ie 2012 and 2013 donations. by law because bcliberals are so corrupt all civic politicians & pol parties don't have to tell citizens funds raised in non election years.

      Van Greens only disclosed a 3rd of their donations, 2014. They refused to disclose 2012 & 2013 donations.

      So some developer could give NPA or Vision $300,000 in 2012 or 2013 & a mayor or councillor of party who got it could vote yes on their project and we vancouver citizens would never know.

      So at debates please ask all candidates if they will be fully transparent and disclose all donations for all 3 years not just release one & hide the other two years aka #darkmoney

      pwlg

      Nov 1, 2014 at 10:17am

      An easy solution: Change the Vancouver Charter and the Community Charter (Local Government Act or whatever its called now) to increase transparency for all donations made to a politician or political party between elections and during an election. But Ms Clark and every Premier before her has not done this.

      So if these slimy politicians with phrases like: ""working within the laws as they exist today", aren't prepared to voluntarily disclose their donators and amounts donated then push the province for change. These guys are asking for your to vote them into office for 4 years now...we should have more transparency especially when we know Vision is embarking on high density towers all over the city at the most inappropriate locations (the proponents of these future projects will be high on Vision's donation list).

      wintermutt

      Nov 3, 2014 at 8:53am

      Yes, if we want to maintain any semblance of a democratic election process, we desperately need to bring in strict electoral financing reform. Permit only personal contributions (both financial and in-kind), and set a maximum of $1200 per person per year. No NGO, corporate, union or other organization contributions. This should apply to political donations at all levels of government: federal, provincial and civic.

      As Ivan Drury has rightly noted in his Sept, 2014 essay, The Rise of Philanthro-capitalism
      What passes for progressive city politics today:

      "Over three election seasons, Vision took in $1.1 million from its top 10 corporate donors, most of whom were real estate corporations and luxury goods marketers. Half of the B.C. Liberals’ top 10 2012 campaign donors were also top donors to Vision, including key real estate giants like Wall Financial, Redekop Construction, and real estate marketer Bob Rennie, who plays media huckster and fundraiser for both Vision and the B.C. Liberals. . . . Under the name Five Boys Investment, Lululemon yoga capitalist Dennis “Chip” Wilson contributed $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals in 2012 and $50,000 to Vision in 2011. [Note that Wilson was rewarded for this largess by the closure of the well-used street in front of his new thirty million dollar home on Point Grey Road, and its controversial designation as a "Bike Lane".]. . . David Aisenstat, a restaurateur and CEO of the Keg steakhouse chain, gave $100,000 to Vision in the 2011 election before red-baiting the NDP in the 2012 provincial election."