The new BC NDP government is trying to change the rules governing how political parties are funded in the province – but what exactly are those changes?
The Election Amendment Act, introduced on Monday, comes months after the New York Times branded BC the “Wild West” of political donations.
The Times’ article back in January took aim at then Premier Christy Clark and her BC Liberal Party, and made the issue a focus for opposition parties.
While the BC Greens had already banned corporate and union donations to their own party back in September 2016, the BC NDP had not.
However, during the election campaign, the BC NDP pledged “to get the big money out of politics,” and it was part of their agreement with the BC Greens to help them govern.
In a release on Monday, BC Premier John Horgan said:
“We’re reforming campaign finance rules to make sure government’s actions and decisions benefit everyone, not just those with deep pockets.”
Attorney General David Eby added that:
“The days of limitless donations, a lack of transparency and foreign and corporate influence over our elections are history.”
Meanwhile, in a release issued the same day, BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver called it “a historic day for our province’s democracy.”
“Big money has been the defining feature of what is broken in BC politics…I am delighted that 2017 will go down in history as the last big money election in BC.”
Banning union and corporate donations
The proposed Election Amendment Act would:
- ban union, organization and corporate political contributions
- ban political contributions from outside of BC
- limit individual donations to $1,200/year per party for 2018
- individual donation limits for future years would be set by the chief electoral officer based on the consumer price index
In this respect, the bill is retroactive, so donations previously received that would violate the new rules could not be used for future campaign financing.
Restricting political fundraising functions
The bill also places restrictions and public reporting requirements on fundraising functions:
- bans fundraising functions with a ticket price of more than $100 at someone’s home
- bans parties and candidates from accepting more than $100/person at these events
- any payment of at least $50 made at a function is considered a political donation
- at least a week before the event, details of the planned function and its political attendees must be given to the chief electoral officer
- no later than 60 days after the event, details of all financial takings and political attendees at the event must be provided to the chief electoral officer
- this information will then be published online and will continue to be published online until one year after the next election
New political financing fines
As well, the Act would impose new fines for violations of the new political financing rules. Fines would be as follows:
- double the amount of political contributions raised illegally at private homes
- double the amount of donations received from unions or corporations
- double the amount of the part of an individual donation that exceeds the new limit
- $10,000 for failure to provide information of fundraising functions
New rules on election expenditure
The Act would also change rules governing party expenditure during elections:
- maximum spending by a party reduced by a quarter, changed from $4.4 million to 1.16 multiplied by the number of registered voters
- maximum spending permitted by a candidate is reduced from $70,000 to $58,000
- maximum spending during a byelection reduced from $70,000 to $58,000
And there will also be new rules restricting on how third parties sponsor election advertising.
Public funding for political parties
Controversially, the new Act will also provide parties with a temporary, taxpayer funded allowance, based on a public, per vote system.
This will apply to all political parties that in the last election got:
- at least 2% of the total number of the province-wide vote, or
- at least 5% of the total number of votes in districts where they ran candidates
That allowance will begin in 2018 at $2.50 per vote received, then decrease each year until 2022:
- in 2019, $2.25 per vote received
- in 2020, $2.00 per vote received
- in 2021, $1.75 per vote received
- in 2022, $1.75 per vote received
Under the Act, a committee would be set up to establish if the allowance should be continued, and if so, at what rate and for how long.
If no action is taken, the allowance will end in 2022.
Horgan accused of breaking his promise
The NDP say this is intended to be used by the political parties to transition away from corporate and union donations.
However, in the BC Legislature on Tuesday, House Leader for the Opposition Mike de Jong accused Horgan of breaking a pledge not to have taxpayers fund political parties.
“I think that British Columbians actually do want to know this,” said de Jong. “Did he break the word on his own? Or was it forced upon him by members of the Green Party?”
Horgan responded by saying his government were delivering what British Columbians wanted.
“What British Columbians now know is that big money will no longer influence the decisions of their government,” said Horgan.
“That’s what British Columbians asked for, and that’s what they’re going to get.”