OneCity believes that the campaign finance rules for the City of Vancouver are in desperate need of reform. Here is our submission to British Columbia's Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits outlining how we can achieve this.
1. Apply Two Fundamental Pre-Conditions
For reform to be effective, two fundamental principles need to be recognized: first, individual donations must be limited to a modest amount, allowing the majority of residents to participate in an equitable manner if they so choose. Second, while fundraising is one among many ways candidates and parties demonstrate their legitimacy, the total amount candidates may spend must be strictly limited to ensure that the ability to raise funds through donations is not the determining factor in an election.
Individual donations during the election period should be limited to $250. While many Vancouver residents would certainly find it difficult to afford such a donation (and therefore be unable to participate equally with their more privileged neighbours), $250 seems a reasonable compromise between affordability and inequality.
With respect to total allowable expenditures, OneCity recommends a limit for any political party of $1 in spending for every eligible voter. In Vancouver, that would generate a maximum of about $400,000.
However, candidates are entitled to run either as independents or with small political parties and should not be disadvantaged when they do so. If they are permitted to spend only a per capita amount based on the $400,000 maximum (about $15,000 per candidate) they would be hindered because they would not benefit from the economies of scale that are available to larger parties.
Therefore, OneCity recommends the guidelines for election spending permit individual candidates to spend a maximum of $25,000. Therefore, parties with 16 or more candidates (there are 27 positions available) would all have as their limit the maximum of $400,000.
2. Report Between Elections
Municipal political parties are currently only required to publicly report campaign-period donations, leaving three-plus years to stockpile unreported “dark money.”Such a situation contributes both to a lack of transparency for political parties and to growing cynicism among Vancouver residents.
Political parties should be required to disclose all non-campaign period donations and to do so on an annual basis.
3. Limit Third-Party Spending
Third-party advertisers have come to increasingly dominate elections, not only during provincial and federal campaigns, but also during Vancouver civic elections as well. This harms the political process.
Third-party spending in Vancouver elections should be limited to no more than $.25 per eligible voter. This would generate a limit of about $100,000 per third-party grouping.
4. Ban Corporate and Union Donations After Placing Strict Controls on Individual Donations
There are dramatic differences between corporate and union donations. The most important of these is that union donations are determined by democratic processes. Corporate donations, on the other hand, are determined by unelected decision-makers.
Importantly, union donations, having been arrived at democratically, are made in the interests of working-class and middle-class workers, their families and their communities while corporate donations are made to further those companies’ aims and objectives.
OneCity is proud that a number of unions chose to join many individual donors in supporting our candidate in the recent civic election. We have built our new party and policies around values we share with the trade union movement – workers’ rights and social justice.
The danger with currently popular calls for a ban on corporate and union donations is that such a policy will be introduced in the absence of low limits on individual donations and election expenditures. This would produce an even worse situation than that which currently exists. It would mean that wealthy and privileged individuals have free rein to spend on election campaigns while working- and middle-class individuals and families would have the formal right to do so, but would be inhibited by their financial capabilities.
If and only if strict controls are placed on individual contributions (as outlined under the first point above), OneCity recommends a ban on corporate and union donations. In the absence of such strict limits and guidelines, OneCity does not support a ban on union donations.