In the U.S. it’s called “dark money,” a way to spend big bucks on politics and remain relatively anonymous.
They’re the overlooked political donors: trade and professional associations, such as the Society of BC Floor Covering Employers and the Canadian Convenience Stores Association.
We’re not talking chump change.
Since 2005, 219 associations have donated $4.73 million to the BC Liberal Party and 71 kicked in $640,395 for the BC NDP.
Some try to show little favour: a bit to the Liberals; a bit to the NDP.
The BC Anesthesiologists Society has donated $8,550 to the Liberals and $5,350 to the NDP.
The Vancouver Taxi Association has given $52,850 to the Liberals and $43,600 to the NDP.
Chickens are covered from coop to broiler. The Fraser Valley Egg Producers Association has given $15,500 to the Liberals; the Chicken Growers Association, $1,900; the Primary Poultry Processors, $8,000; and the BC Chicken Marketing Board, $3,900.
However, 10 associations account for more than $3.14 million of the Liberal party’s haul. Nine of the 10 gave $383,930 to the NDP, with 70% of it hitting party coffers in the nine-month stretch from September 2012 to May 2013. You might almost think their donations may have been influenced by polls that showed an NDP victory on the horizon.
When associations start cutting cheques for more than $100,000, it causes one to wonder where the money came from. Bake sale? Car wash?
The New Car Dealers Association has cut 168 cheques for the Liberals totalling $1.16 million. Eight of the cheques totalled $660,000, including two for $100,000 and one for $150,000.
Track their donations over the last 11 years and it becomes readily apparent the association accounts for more and more of the sector’s annual totals, while individual dealers account for less and less.
The Maritime Employers Association has contributed $277,906 to the Liberals, but never for more than $10,000 at any one cheque cutting.
The BC Wine Institute has given $35,523 to the Liberals (NDP $0). Coincidentally, last year the institute was given a $100,000 Buy Local funding grant from the B.C. government.
Association cheques are also on top of their members’ donations. The National Brewers Association has given $161,395 to the Liberals. In addition, Sleeman Breweries kicked in another $17,646; Ontario’s Beer Store, $114,178; Molson Coors, $121,257; and Labatt, $159,366.
When you go from cutting four cheques totalling $1,775 in 2008 to a $110,000 cheque the next year – as the Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association did in 2009 – it raises questions of where the money came from: a healthy bank balance or a one-time membership appeal?
It’s not a groundless fear as the Election Act speaks to this very issue.
Spend $1 during the next provincial election and you’ll have to register with Elections BC as a third-party sponsor and report all contributions of money “beginning six months before an election is called and ending at the close of voting.”
Therein lies the rub: unless an association spends money during an election – and registers with Elections B.C. – there’s no requirement for an association to report the real donors behind any political donations it may make.
And dark money is a growing problem. In 2005, the Big 10 donated $64,313 to the Liberals. Last year, they gave $428,882.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.