Thursday, March 24, 2011

qOtd: Campaign Finance Reform

Nation, my apologies for the silence as late. To say that I've been going through some interesting times would be an understatement. What I want to talk about today is campaign finance reform.

One of the most convenient slurs to throw towards a candidate is the ever-popular "we don't know who's funding his campaign - he might be bought and paid for". While statutes regulate donations to political parties, they're all too lax when it comes to leadership campaigns, and to municipal elections.  For examples of this we need only look as far as the Wildrose Alliance leadership race, whose eventual winner still hasn't released a list of donors citing their apparent "fear of retribution from the government". Several PC Leadership candidates, including Doug Griffiths and Alison Redford, have expressed their commitment to full pre-emptive disclosure of donors to their campaigns, and amounts. The PC Party itself, through President Bill Smith, has been most emphatic that formal disclosure rules for all leadership candidates WILL be in effect, contrary to past practice (although Ed Stelmach DID eventually release the donor list for his successful PC Leadership run in 2006).

We saw a bit of this flavour creep into the Calgary Municipal campaign last October as well. Naheed Nenshi released a list of his donors, putting them into broad categories much like the back of a concert programme thanking "classes" of donors - "These people donated between $1,000 and $2,499". The advantage this has is that it provides partial disclosure - it says WHO is funding you - without requiring you to be so specific as to advertise to your opponents exactly how much money you've got in the War Chest. Kent Hehr, by comparison, released a full disclosure of his donors, before eventually pulling out of the race (Hehr, incidentally, has apparently REFUNDED his donors, on account of him not finishing the race. Now THAT is worth respect from across the entire spectrum).

The question is, do we need provincial statutes governing political party leadership races? And if so, what should they look like?


Yes, we do.

Political parties aren't like your local Elks Lodge or the Legion. The person who wins that election could conceivably find themselves, as result of our sometimes-arcane Westminster political system, in charge of the entire apparatus of government. Tens of Billions of dollars get spent every year by the provincial government, on the direct say-so of someone who was elected to lead one of those poorly-regulated political parties.

As it stands now, we count on the parties themselves to run these elections fairly. We're counting on it, but we have no way to hold them to account. For all we know, the leader of the Alberta Party is going to be declared after a cage fight (in which case my money's on Tesarski).

Just kidding, Alberta Party. I know better. But if you DID choose your leader that way, Albertans wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

Likewise the donation disclosure. Moreso than fisticuffs and way-too-tight Tap Out shirts, what successful political operations have in common is money. That money comes from average citizens, and it comes from businesses large and small. Some of those businesses and individuals, hard as it may be to believe, aren't donating out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather because they want to curry favour with a candidate they feel could someday be in a position to return the favour.

And we have EVERY right to know who our wannabe leaders are owing favours to, BEFORE we cast our ballots.

We don't regulate the leadership selection for the local chapter of the Rotary Club.

Then again, the Rotarians don't get to spend my tax dollars.

Let's fix this. Make it one of the first bills passed under the new Premier's administration. And commit to passing new, more stringent rules in time for the next municipal campaigns.

That's MY take...  what's yours?


Jeff said...

The problem I have isn't having my name (or company) released publicly o a list of leadership political donations, the problem I have are te implications that media/opposition parties/certain portion of general public have that because I made a donation I must want something in return.

It's interesting to me that people only seem to care who donates to the government party (and to a lesser extent parties that COULD form a government).

I should have the right to donate a cheque to a leadership candidate, or all of them, without having to see my name in the newspaper 3 years later because of a coincidence where a government policy happens to benefit my industry. Or am I wrong?

I think many people quickly forget how politics is run on money, and if a party leader hasn't learned to differentiate a donation from a "strings-attached" donation, then we are all in big trouble.

People cry "openness and transparency please!". My question of the day would be, is there such a thing as too much openness and transparency?

Anonymous said...

Big thumbs up to Hehr for the refund. That is class.