Democracy Watch published a media release yesterday that lamented the still-existing loopholes in the disclosure of political campaign contributions. But has Democracy Watch lost sight of the big picture?
(My emphasis in bold)
FIRST QUARTERLY DISCLOSURE OF
FEDERAL POLITICAL PARTY DONATIONS SHOWS
UNDEMOCRATIC SECRET DONATIONS STILL DOMINATE,
LIBERALS THE CHOICE OF WEALTHY DONORS
Monday, May 30, 2005
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its initial analysis of the first quarterly disclosure of donations to federal political parties under the new political donations system. The new system requires donations made directly to parties to be disclosed quarterly (donations used to be disclosed once each year), bans donations to parties by corporations, unions and other organizations, and limits individuals to donating a combined annual total of $5,000 to each party and all of the parties candidates and riding associations.
This is the legislation that the Liberals wrote and tabled in the legislature on January 29th, 2003.
Democracy Watch’s report continues…
As a result of the change to the new disclosure system this year, the 2005 first quarter donations have been disclosed before the 2004 annual donations (which will be disclosed in July 2005).
The key point of Democracy Watch’s analysis is that new donations system has many serious loopholes that allow wealthy interests to use money as a means of undemocratic, unethical influence over the federal government and federal political parties, as follows:
- secret, unlimited donations to nomination race and election candidates are still legal as long as the candidates do not use the money for their campaign;
This concern makes sense. Chretien should have closed this loophole…
- donations of volunteer labour do not have to be disclosed, allowing corporate and special interest lobby groups to make large, secret donations to parties, riding associations and candidates;
This point is significant, as perhaps the most scandalous revelation of the Gomery inquiry was the bankrolling of Liberal campaign “volunteers” by Liberal friendly ad companies such as Groupaction. These volunteers were paid salaries by Jean Brault in exchange for substantial contracts brokered by the Liberal party and paid for by the taxpayer.
- the individual donation limit of $5,000 facilitates funneling of donations by corporations, unions and other organizations through executives and employees, and is much higher than an average Canadian can afford and therefore is undemocratic (the limit should be lowered to $1,000);
Again, this is a fair point. I wonder which party took the most donations over $1,000.
- a donor’s employer and major affiliations are not required to be disclosed, nor are the identities of donors who donate less than $200, making it too easy to hide funneling of donations by corporations and other organizations (for example, Jean Brault of advertising company Groupaction testified at the Gomery Commission Inquiry that he funneled donations to the federal Liberals and the Parti Quebecois through his employees), or by one individual through another individual
Now Democracy Watch brings up Jean Brault. Campaign workers were paid undeclared salaries and brown envelopes full of cash were handed off to senior Liberals in restaurants. Yes, Brault may have put the icing on the Liberal cake by funneling less-than-$200 donations and this raises an alarm, yet a small one in comparison to the massive funneling of illegal cash to the Liberal party.
- the identity of donors who donate to a candidate or riding association and then have their donation transferred to a party are not required to be disclosed quarterly, allowing parties to hide the identity of donors for up to 18 months
Again, this represents a loophole that should have been closed in the original Liberal legislation. We’ll see how this comes into play later.
- donations received during a year in which an election is held do not have to be disclosed before election day, and as a result voters have to cast their ballot without knowing who has bankrolled each party and candidate.
An interesting idea. I’d like to see this problem rectified.
“Until all donations are required to be disclosed and donations are limited to a more democratic level, Canadians should assume that the federal parties and their candidates are receiving secret donations, or hiding the identities of donors who are tied to corporate and special interest lobby groups or wealthy individuals,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chair of the nation-wide Money in Politics Coalition.
All parties are presumed guilty by DW?
The Election Canada statistics for donations made from January 1, 2005 to March 30, 2005 to the Bloc Quebecois, Conservative Party of Canada, Green Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, and New Democratic Party reveal the following:
- the identities of a large majority of donors to all the parties are not required to be disclosed because they have donated less than $200 so far in 2005, and these donors have donated a large majority of the amount donated so far in 2005 to the Conservatives and NDP (Percentage of each party’s donors donating less than $200, total they donated, and percentage of total individual donations made so far in 2005: Bloc – 97% of donors donated less than $200, and donated a total of $21,220 (which is 17% of total donated); Conservatives – 95.8% donated total of $2,011,099 (77.9%); Greens – 95.5% donated total of $16,284.90 (36.6%); Liberals – 61% donated total of $190,691.91 (11.2%), and; NDP – 96.1% donated total of $426,393.90 (76.2%) — if this trend continues until the end of 2005, or is present in the 2004 donation figures (to be disclosed in July), it will be clear that small donations must be disclosed to ensure funneling of large donations from wealthy interests through others is not occurring;
This is quite an alarmist statement considering what is being discussed. Let’s take the Conservatives for example: 95.8% of money donated so far this year has been by individuals giving less than $200 and this money has totaled $2,011,099. I wonder if there is a good explanation for the large proportion of modest individual support for the Conservative Party.
- the Liberal Party receives four times more money from riding associations and candidates than all the other parties combined (Bloc – $2,040 received from ridings, $0 from candidates; Conservatives – $64,986.36 from ridings, $0 from candidates; Greens – $0 from ridings, $172.97 from candidates; Liberals – $260,685.47 from ridings, $282,082.87 from candidates; NDP – $0 from ridings and candidates) and as a result, the Liberals are, in effect, hiding the identities of donors that donated 20% of their total donations until mid-2006 (because riding associations and candidates only disclose their donors once per year);
This is quite a scathing report on the funding of the campaigns of the Liberal Party of Canada.
- the Liberals have many more donors donating more than $1,000 than all the other parties combined (Liberals – 141 (plus 39 groups of donors with the same family name who donated a combined total of more than $1,000; Bloc – 1; Conservatives – 36 (plus 7 groups of donors with the same family name who donated a combined total of more than $1,000); Greens – 3; NDP – 5 (plus 3 groups of donors with the same family name who donated a combined total of more than $1,000));
- the average donation to the Liberals was 3-5 times larger than the other parties (average donations were Bloc – $66.10; Conservatives – $90.23 (under $200 – ed.); Greens – $62.26; Liberals – $314.84, and; NDP – $64.57);
The average amount donated by an individual to the Conservative Party of Canada was $90.23, a figure less than $200. Again, 95.8% of donations were less than $200 and totalled $2,099,011. It is true that up to 22,288 could have been part of a conspiracy to funnel this much money from corporations to the Conservative Party, but I think that the more likely explanation is that the Conservative party has support from actual individuals who would give their hard-earned money to fund change. The Liberals have been accused of using the less-than-$200-funneling-method, the Conservatives have not.
- the Conservative Party has a base of individual donors that is much larger than the other four parties (the Conservatives received donations from 28,624 individuals, 3.3 times more than the NDP (which received donations from 8,663 individuals), 5.29 times more than the Liberals (which received donations from 5,409 individuals), 15.19 times more than the Bloc (which received donations from 1,884 individuals), and 40.03 times more than the Green Party (which received donations from 715 individuals), and;
I assume that a high proportion of donations from individuals represents a good first step for preventing the corruptibility of politicians by special interest groups, corporations and unions. The Conservatives score high here.
- the Conservatives raised the most money ($2,647,633.36) of any of the parties in the first three months of 2005, followed by the Liberals (2,245,743.17); NDP ($559,352.48); Bloc ($126,577.73), and; Greens ($44,691.37).
The Conservatives raised the most money compared to the other parties? And they have an individual donor base that is 3.3x, 5.29x and 15.19x greater the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc, respectively? Good for the Conservatives. They seem to be financed in the spirit of representing the individuals in their constituencies. What does Democracy Watch conclude?
“All the federal parties have responded to the Gomery inquiry by claiming they are concerned by the evidence of scandalous donation activities, yet none have taken steps to close the donation loopholes that currently make it legal to corrupt federal politicians with secret donations,” said Conacher. “If the parties do not close these loopholes before the next election, all Canadians should assume that they are voting for politicians who lack integrity and have no problem with being corrupted by secret donations.“
Democracy Watch damns all parties to the same degree in this conclusion.
The Liberals have many more donors donating more than $1,000 than all the other parties combined. (DW suggests the max limit should be reduced to $1,000 as most Canadians cannot afford to give as much as $5,000)
Gomery has revealed that the Liberals have allegedly used undeclared corporate-bankrolled “volunteer” labour to work election campaigns in Quebec.
The Liberal Party receives four times more money from riding associations and candidates than all the other parties combined. Remember that the identity of donors who donate to a candidate or riding association and then have their donation transferred to a party are not required to be disclosed quarterly, allowing parties to hide the identity of donors for up to 18 months.
Where does Democracy Watch find fault in the Conservative Party of Canada?
In a year where a commission of inquiry hears evidence about hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to the Liberal Party in unreported, illegal cash and in-kind contributions, allegedly in exchange for favoritism in government ad contracts, Democracy Watch is worried about $85-a-year donors corrupting the process of government in Canada.
The Conservative Party has the largest base of individual financial support to the party and the party has raised the greatest sum of cash from these individuals. While Conservatives receive a substantial proportion of donations in the under $200 range, most of these donations are likely from Ma and Pa Conservative rather than funneled through corporations as the Liberals have been found to do. The only criticism leveled against the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Green Party is more appropriately directed at the system. The Liberal legislation allows anonymous contributions under $200 and it is not fair to say “all Canadians should assume that they are voting for politicians who lack integrity and have no problem with being corrupted by secret donations”. The non-Liberal parties, including the Conservatives, are merely participants in a system governed by the rules written by Chretien and the Liberals.
Democracy Watch loses credibility in publishing such a report that damns all parties to the same degree while it is evident that the abuses are perpetrated by the Liberals. The suspicion of impropriety of the other parties is not a function of their fundraising practices, but of the defined system. One would think that instead of focusing on pithy $200-a-year undeclared donations that are most likely coming from genuine individual supporters of the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Green Party, Democracy Watch should first focus upon the need to stop the massive funnelling of illegal cash and corporate in-kind donations to the Liberal party.