Editorial — Financing provincial elections

A strict limit on donations, including those from unions and businesses, would be better than an outright ban.

A number of organizations and political parties are taking aim at the financing of political parties, citing the release last week of information about funds raised by the BC Liberals and the NDP.

The Liberals raised about $10 million in 2012, with about half of that coming from businesses. The NDP raised about $7 million, with $1 million coming from businesses and another $1.6 million from unions.

NDP leader Adrian Dix has agreed with Integrity B.C., an election watchdog group, the BC Conservative Party, the Green Party and independent MLAs that there should be a ban on donations from businesses and unions to political campaigns. This would bring B.C. into line with the federal government and most other provinces.

Is this really best for democracy?

Independent MLA Bob Simpson says that organizations giving donations to parties “buys access” and is at odds with one person, one vote.

Simpson, a former NDP MLA, says Dix may waffle on his pledge to end corporate and union donations, because his party has done well from both in the past year.

If there were no donations to parties from businesses and unions, would that limit political advertising? Not likely. Unions like the B.C. Teachers Federation have spent millions in advocacy ads over the years, and are doing so now. It is unlikely that any ban on donations would extend to advocacy ads, given that it would be unlikely to survive a court challenge.

B.C. has had, in the past, a robust political tradition that is quite unlike many other provinces. Many elections have been fought like class warfare. The Liberals, the latest version of the free enterprise coalition, get funds from many businesses, and the NDP (and the CCF before them) get funds from labour. What’s wrong with that?

A limit on donations from an individual business or union to a party, and a law that would prevent that organization from making simultaneous donations to individual candidates to try to get around the limit, would be sufficient in  limiting the influence of any one donor.

Businesses, unions, advocacy groups and individuals should be free to donate to political parties. Democracy is a battle of ideas, and getting ideas out into the public square requires money and effort.

No one should be able to buy an election. Individuals, groups and businesses should be able to fully participate.