Les Leyne: Business donations a problem for NDP

B.C. New Democrats had a record fundraising year in 2012, but a few members will be squirming uncomfortably when they look at the books.

That’s because the party raised $997,000 from corporations, according to the disclosure form it filed with Elections B.C. last week. That’s more than four times last year’s take. It’s a politically loaded entry on the balance sheet, partly because the sector where they’re getting the biggest growth is the one they want to ban.

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For as long as political donations have been made public in B.C., the NDP has been happy to point out that the B.C. Liberals rely heavily on the corporate sector, while the NDP is funded mostly by individuals.

It’s always the same picture — Liberals lean heavily on corporations, and to a lesser extent on individuals. The NDP gets most of its cash from individuals and unions.

That’s still the case, but the differences are narrowing. And the big difference is the dramatic increase in corporate donations to the NDP.

After the NDP opened the doors to corporate donations a few years ago, businesses made limited contributions, mostly to attend events to keep lines of communication open. Bigger companies make a few fairly sizable contributions as a kind of civic duty, although they’re usually more generous to the Liberals.

The NDP made a conscious effort to solicit business in 2012. Leader Adrian Dix held numerous receptions to introduce him to business leaders. As the perception grew that he stands a good chance of becoming the next premier, the business world started paying thousands of dollars a head to meet and get to know him.

The result is a long list of corporations and business groups are now donors to the NDP. They make up 14 per cent of the party’s revenue.

(Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, of Aquilini Investments: $102,500; Canadian Forest Products: $44,000; Enbridge: $6,300; Encana: $14,140; Great Canadian Gaming Corp.: $7,800.)

Nobody is fooling themselves that they support the NDP. They’re just hedging their bets and paying the ante, either for access to Dix, or to signal they are in the game. (Aquilini donated about the same to the B.C. Liberals, CFP gave the Liberals $53,000, Encana sent them $143,600.)

But some members will be dismayed to see the NDP cashing Enbridge’s cheque, given the party’s active campaign against the company’s pipeline project. And the NDP was sniping much of last week about Encana’s carbon credits, detailed in the auditor general’s report.

Some are uneasy about a billionaire supporting the NDP. When I tweeted Aquilini’s donation, someone responded: “NOOOOOO!!!”

In the heat of debate, NDP MLAs sometimes sneer about the B.C. Liberals’ corporate donations, as an allusion to backroom deals. It will be a lot harder to use that smear, now that — for a while at least — they are sipping at the same trough.

The NDP also wants to ban union donations, which would have a much bigger impact, as that’s 23 per cent of their revenue.

Unions donated $1.6 million to the NDP last year. (Steelworkers: $380,000; CUPE: $303,000; BCGEU: $145,000.)

It was a record $7-million year for the party, all told. That brings them much closer to the B.C. Liberals ($10 million) than usual.

The Liberals have their own story to tell on fundraising. While more than half ($5.8 million) of their donations came from business, it was a record year for individual donations, the sector in which they lag compared to the NDP. The party collected $3.9 million from 15,500 individuals.

There has been some speculation about the party’s future, given the pessimistic polling projections about the Liberals’ chances in next month’s election. But the donation base suggests it will be around for a while in some fashion, no matter how bad it gets on May 14.

Just So You Know: B.C. Conservatives pulled in $256,000 in donations, but spent more than that and are posting a $131,000 deficit at filing time. B.C. Greens list donations of $163,000 on their website. Several years ago, I sneered at B.C. Social Credit for raising just $90 in donations. I regret to report it spurred no one to action. They raked in $9.22 last year.

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