Election Campaign Contribution Limits, Research Paper Example

Introduction

The municipality of Vancouver will have its next election in November 2014. There are two primary topics that city voters will be looking at in order to make their decision: 1) the topic of development and funding for community centers; 2) the topic of real estate developer donations to city political parties. The upcoming municipal elections will mark the introduction of two new political parties: The “Vancouver First” party is led by Jesse Johl, a former NPA politician who was dropped from the association in 2011. The other new entrant in the election, TEAM, is also made of former NPA politicians: Dave Pasin, Bill Mccreery, and Jonathon Baker.  The two new political entrants into the race will not only increase competition for council seats, but their participation will also lead to a new political dynamic, leading to a further hemorrhaging of support for existing center-right parties. With a stronger political race, it makes sense to adopt political donation limitations that will allow the NPA to run a stronger campaign.

Political Issues for the 2014 Vancouver City Council Election

Johl has recently made political waves over the operational independence of community associations. The Vancouver Park Board announced plans in 2013 to have all community associations accept the OneCard system, which was largely viewed as a larger Board strategy to take over operational independence from the centers.[1]  Johl has placed himself in the middle of the simmering political conflict in which six Vancouver community centre associations (Hastings, Kensington, Kerrisdale, Killarney, Riley Park Hillcrest and Sunset) filed a legal injunction with the British of Columbia Supreme Court in August to stop the proposed order to accept OneCard payments.

Although on the surface the issue is about the Onecard payment system, Johl has made clear that it is much deeper dealing with the fundamental operational independence of the community centers.  Indeed, Johl has made it clear through a number of different sources that the injunction against the Park Board is merely an opening salvo in a longer battle over the issue of independence: He claims that a larger legal action will be forthcoming that the Park Board has impinged upon an existing legal agreement to jointly operate the community centres.  The Onecard payment system, is a symbolic move by the Board to curb the decision making and community communication functions of the centres.  While the Board has argued that such moves to pool nearly $1.3 million fiscal surplus from the associations is a move to strengthen the  entire system, many of the community associations see the move as a heavy-handed precursor to take away financial independence from the fledging centers.[2]  Johl’s political platform for the upcoming election in 2014 will likely feature the community centres at the centre of the campaign.

Campaign Finance Reform

The other major issue likely to influence the election is campaign finance.  Although campaign finance is still an evolving issue in municipalities throughout the country, several major cities have already implemented limits on donations.  For example, the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec have enacted legislation that limit or restrict campaign contributions in local governments.[3] Numerous cities have also promulgated campaign contribution limits via legislation on the municipal level: For Winnipeg, the maximum contribution that can be made by an individual, corporation, organization, or trade union is $750 for a city council candidate and $1500 for a mayoral candidate. For the municipality of Toronto, a maximum of $750 may be contributed to city council candidates, while candidates for mayor can accept a maximum of $2500 per political contributor.  Although two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, have established a legal framework for local governments to establish their own campaign contribution laws, no local governments in the two provinces have established such laws.[4]

On the back of other cities and municipalities enacting laws to limit the influence of money in municipal elections, Vancouver and British Columbia have taken steps forward to also impose campaign contribution limits.  Indeed, the city council of Vancouver passed a resolution in 2009 that would have added amendments to the Vancouver Charter and the Local Government Act to impose campaign contribution source restrictions and contribution amount limits.  The amendments were not ultimately approved by the UBCM. After the failed legislation in 2008, there were more advanced efforts to get campaign finance reform on the agenda.  A white paper by the UMBC in 2010 laid out the basic options for potential reforms.  After that the UBCM Elections Task Force made recommendations that a specific act dealing with campaign finance reform be examined by the Task Force.

The Task Force came up with the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA) that essentially be broken down into two different provisions.  The first raft of provisions focuses on increasing transparency of campaign finance donations that includes: disclosure and registration by third-party advertisers; sponsorship requirement information for all election advertising; and stricter requirements for the timely filing of disclosure statements.[5]  These provisions will be put forward in spring 2014 for a vote.

The second raft of provisions will deal with actual restrictions on campaign finance decisions.  Although there have been no formal agreement on what those specific campaign finance contribution limits will be, the UMBC has announced the following process for gathering information and potential legislation timetable.

Figure 1:

Source: UMBC White Paper on Local Government Reforms

Source: UMBC White Paper on Local Government Reforms

According to the current timetable, the UBCM will elicit feedback from stakeholders starting in November 2013.  Based on outreach efforts, the UMBC will aggregate that feedback and put forth tangible changes to the campaign finance contribution laws in spring 2015.  The new limits, if ultimately agreed to by the UMBC, are scheduled to go into effect in October 2017.

With this established time table in mind, the NPA would be well-served to think about the potential political benefits that would accrue from an early adoption of campaign finance rules. Traditional political logic says: campaign contribution limits are deleterious to the ruling party as the present obstacles to fundraising for a party that might already a substantial advantage over parties with less robust campaign funding.  This may be true, however, for the 2014 municipal election the two issues of developer contributions that unduly influences city decisions will likely be at the forefront.  This will not be advantageous to the NPA; however, attempts to put forward and ultimately accept campaign finance contributions  will allow the NPA to turn the political dynamics in a positive way: That the party realizes the corrosive impact of money on politics and is leading the way to clean politics up.  That is, the party would inevitably be tainted with severe attacks on this point if they do not decide to proactively face it.  This can also be seen in the dynamics from the 2011 election, of which the top 14 candidates are listed below:

Figure 2

Vancouver Municipal Government

Overall, a vote swing of 3,500 votes in either direction would have allowed NPA to have at least one city council seat and possibly more.

This result was in spite of a banner campaign finance election fundraising by both NPA and Visions. According to 2011 Vancouver municipal campaign finance filings, NPA raised a total of $2.92 million for the election; Vision was the second most successful fundraiser with a total of $2.23 million for the election.[1] NPA not only raised the most money for the election, but boasted the single largest contribution from developer Rob Macdonald of Macdonald Development Corporation of roughly $960,000.[2]

Despite the decision of both the NPA and Vision to accept money, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) has adopted another tactic: promulgate campaign finance rules, while at the same time allowing loopholes for developers to contribute to the party. Indeed, although the party itself cannot receive the money via commercial donations, there are several COPE politicians that receive money from developers that then finds its way into the party finance budget.

Finally, the example of Jason Lamarche may be instructive in this entire process. Lamarche ran a seat on the Vancouver city council in 2011.  He ultimately received 37,296 votes, while declaring $5,600 in donations- this comes out to roughly .15 per vote for the ill-fated political campaign of the skateboarder turned banker. Because only the base voted for Lamarche, one can see how curbing political contributions would likely be in the party’s interest for the 2014 election.

Conclusion

The upcoming municipal election in Vancouver will likely tilt around two interconnected issues: the (disproportionate) influence of real estate developers in the electoral process, and the future of campaign finance reform. In order to gain a foothold in this election and adopt a proactive stance, the NPA should move to adopt true campaign finance reform rules.

At first glance, this recommendation may seem somewhat counterintuitive.  That is, as one of the main political parties and main beneficiaries of campaign finance, NPA might be better served to go along with the status quo.  However, this thinking is wrongheaded for three reasons.  First, campaign finance reform in the city is inevitable, a more proactive stance would help NPA to mold the new rules and how they affect the electoral process.  Second, the stance would help NPA to deflect potential criticism resulting from those who see the party as one in the pocket of real estate developers. Indeed, a volte face on the issue could prove to be a valuable campaigning chip in the upcoming election.  Finally, more stringent rules would actually take the advantage away from other political parties (such as COPE) that have adopted less stringent rules in order to benefit from contributions through different conduits.

[1] http://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/snapshot-of-2011-vancouver-election-campaign-finance-pie-graph-as-most-numbers-now-in/

[2] http://www.straight.com/news/non-partisan-association-spent-25-million-2011-vancouver-election.

[1] http://www.vancouversun.com/Vancouver+community+associations+file+petition+court+stop+park+board+OneCard/8815733/story.html

[2] http://www.vancouversun.com/Vancouver+community+associations+file+petition+court+stop+park+board+OneCard/8815733/story.html

[3] British Columbia Coalition of Municipalities. Local Government Elections Task Force Campaign Contribution Limits Discussion Paper. January 2010

[4] British Columbia Coalition of Municipalities. Local Government Elections Task Force Campaign Contribution Limits Discussion Paper. January 2010

[5] UMBC. White Paper on Local Government Reform. Fall 2013.