Elections B.C. launches investigation into indirect political contributions

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      The B.C. Liberal party has once again come under scrutiny for its handling of political contributions.

      This morning, Elections B.C. announced that it's "reviewing information regarding indirect political contributions and other potential contraventions of the Election Act".

      It came after weekend article by Kathy Tomlinson in the Globe and Mail. She revealed that registered lobbyists were listed as donors for contributions that actually came from their clients.

      A news release from Elections B.C. noted that Section 180 of the Election Act bans indirect political contributions. They're defined as "making a contribution with the money, property or services of another".

      "The scope of Elections B.C.’s investigation into this matter is open-ended and will depend on how our review progresses," the organization stated. "Following our investigation, this matter may be forwarded to the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice if it appears that the Election Act has been contravened."

      The Elections B.C. investigation also comes as Martyn Brown, a long-serving chief of staff to another B.C. Liberal premier, is writing a three-part series on the Straight website about campaign finance reform.

      In the meantime, the Ottawa-based public-interest group Democracy Watch has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

      “The fact that the media is discovering violations of political donation rules that Elections B.C. hasn’t even looked for shows that Elections B.C. has been negligent in enforcing the rules,” Democracy Watch cofounder Duff Conacher said in a news release. “Elections B.C. has to start enforcing the law properly by requesting prosecution within 30 days of everyone who has been involved in illegal donation concealed schemes in the past year, and by immediately auditing donation lists to find all illegally concealed donations since the last election and issuing a report within 60 days.”

      He insisted that it would be "negligent" for Election B.C. to let anyone off with "just a warning, instead of requesting that they be prosecuted". Conacher claimed that this would only encourage more violations.

      Last month, Democracy Watch asked the B.C. Court of Appeal to review a B.C. Supreme Court ruling. It determined that the conflict of interest commissioner's rulings were not subject to judicial review because they are merely opinions that are submitted to the legislature.

      Democracy Watch and another nonprofit group, Pipe Up Network, have also filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court challenging the B.C. Liberal government's approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

      At the core of both cases is an allegation that Premier Christy Clark was in a conflict of interest because she was collecting a $50,000 annual salary from the B.C. Liberal party, which were raised through donations. That was in addition to her $193,000 salary as premier and MLA.

      Democracy Watch and Pipe Up Network have pointed out that the B.C. Liberal party has received more than $500,000 in donations from companies associated with the Kinder Morgan project since Clark became premier in 2011.