Les Leyne: Millions less for B.C. political parties under new fundraising rules

Spare a place in your heart for B.C.’s financially strapped political parties.

Their latest financial reports were posted Monday and they make clear that the NDP, B.C. Liberals and B.C. Greens are living in reduced circumstances.

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Even with your generous help — by way of multimillion-dollar public subsidies — the reports show that the political financing reforms of 2017 have turned off the fundraising taps.

They’re making millions less than they once did. The only saving grace is that their consciences are now presumably cleaner than they once were, now that the big money has vanished.

The latest numbers illustrate the first full year in the new, constrained political donation system.

B.C. Liberals collected $2.4 million in donations in 2018, according to interim reports.

That compares wityh $12.7 million in 2017, the last year of the wild west days.

New Democrats raised $3.3 million in 2018, down from more than $15 million in 2017.

The NDP total from 2017 is a bit of an anomaly. The party also brought in more than the Liberals during the 2013 election campaign. But over the long haul, B.C. Liberals had a vastly bigger bankroll.

So there’s some irony in the tallies, because just when the NDP got to the point of beating the Liberals once in a while at their own fundraising game, they called a halt to it.

The big financing reform wave crashed ashore in 2017. NDP and Greens promised a major overhaul of political financing. B.C. Liberals recognized considerable pressure in favour of reform and started talking the same theme.

After the inconclusive election result, the Liberals promised even more reform, as part of the frantic last-minute attempt to corral the Green caucus and stay in power.

It didn’t work. After the Liberals were bounced out of office, the NDP enacted all the reforms and the wild west era came to a close.

No more six-figure cheques rolling into Liberal Party offices on a regular basis from corporations.

No more listings of union donations to the NDP that went on for page after page after page.

No more huge cheques from wealthy individuals — everyone is capped at $1,200 a year now.

Taxpayers are making up some of the difference.

The reforms included generous public subsidies to the parties for the next few years to ease some of the scrimping.

Twice a year, the NDP, Liberals and B.C. Greens each get cheques from the treasury, by way of Elections B.C., under the new financing rules. They added up to $1.9 million each for the Liberals and the NDP over the last year. The Greens got almost $800,000.

The per vote subsidy will continue until at least 2022, at slightly reduced rates.

Monday’s release also gives a glimpse of how the parties have fared since the virtual tie in the spring of 2017. (As readers have pointed out, it’s not like you can trust polls anymore.)

With everyone reduced to appealing for much smaller donations from a wider pool of individuals, the NDP raised about a million more than the B.C. Liberals over the year.

But the Liberals look to be catching up. The NDP beat them two to one in the first half of the year. In the second half, Liberals narrowed that edge.

And Liberals say their opponents have the advantage of being in power, which prompts more interest in donating.

As for the Greens, they took a hit as well, although not much as the majors. Green donations dropped from $1.4 million in 2017 to $710,000 in 2018. The reforms didn’t have as big a relative impact because the party already declined corporate or union donations.

The report also makes clear there will be an appetite for continuing the subsidy once the initial period expires in three years.

The two major parties have lost half to 80 per cent of their donation base in the past year. The public treasury is the only place left to turn.

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