As final-week opinion polls suggested the B.C. Liberals were trailing behind the NDP ahead of last week’s razor-thin election, party financiers pumped more than $1.5 million into the party’s final week push to close the gap.
And that’s just what they did, eking out preliminary results of Premier Christy Clark’s party just one seat ahead of the NDP, neither with a majority — although two recounts and nearly 180,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted next week.
In total, according to B.C. Liberal “real-time disclosures” posted on the party’s website last Friday, donors forked over $1,543,303.52 in the last seven days before polls closed.
That’s 12 per cent of the party’s entire take in 2016, $13 million. And in just one week, they amassed one-quarter of the proceeds of every B.C. NDP fundraiser last year, and more than double the entire Green Party’s donations.
The largest last-minute cheques came from forestry giant Interfor, and Anthem Properties, which calls itself “Vancouver’s top real estate development firm.” Each gave $50,000 on the same day, May 6.
And one day’s donations alone, May 5, accounted for $545,717.52 — more than one-third of the seven-day homestretch total.
The party’s unaudited donations lists were saved as PDF files, making them difficult to combine or analyze. Metro converted them to spreadsheets to look for trends in the last days of a bitter election campaign.
Similar figures are not available the NDP and Greens, the two parties demanding a ban on “big money” in politics in B.C., which allows unlimited donations from anywhere, but does impose spending limits during election campaigns.
Those two parties will not have to disclose their donations until 90 days after the election, in August.
That’s also the deadline for individual candidates and riding associations to disclose their donations, which raised concerns during the campaign from Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher, who called the differential reporting rules a “huge loophole” in transparency laws.
Conacher has also called B.C.’s lax donations rules a “system of legalized bribery.”
The B.C. Liberals promised that if they win government, once all the votes are counted, they will create a panel to examine the issue of political contributions, and require parties to report their revenues in real-time as they started doing voluntarily ahead of the election.
“Our system is based on a fair and simple principle: parties compete for financial support from those who share their values, just like they compete for votes,” re-elected B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone, who co-chaired the party’s campaign, said in an earlier statement. “… Our voluntary real-time reporting of donations, in addition to strict spending limits on parties during campaigns, means that citizens can have confidence in our democracy.”
But in a statement on Wednesday, Conacher countered that despite all parties promising some “key changes” in the election campaign, they were “nowhere near enough changes to ensure everyone in B.C. politics will, finally be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.”
Conacher called on whichever party forms government after May 24 to enact sweeping democratic reforms, including capping donations at $100 and outlawing union and corporate contributions, creating an independent commission to nominate people to sit on public bodies and boards, barring lobbyists from helping political campaigns, and strengthening conflict of interest laws.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, meanwhile, has stated that banning corporate and union donations is a non-negotiable issue for his three-seat caucus, which could be a condition for supporting either a B.C. Liberal or NDP minority government after the May 24 final tally.