B.C. Liberals must reform campaign finance rules, says former chief of staff

The B.C. Liberals' bill to require more timely disclosure of political donations won't go far enough to repair the province's broken campaign finance rules, says the former chief of staff for Gordon Campbell. 

The government is planning on introducing the new bill on Monday. But Martyn Brown, who was chief of staff to former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, wants to see major reforms to campaign finance in this province.

"There are so many huge flaws with the current system that everybody and his dog but the Liberals say is bad, outdated, and needs to be replaced," he said.

B.C.'s campaign finance system has come under significant scrutiny in recent months, particularly the B.C. Liberals' practice of holding exclusive events that some have described as cash for access.

Premier Christy Clark voluntarily gave up her $50,000 salary top-up from the B.C. Liberal Party late last year.

On Monday, Elections BC also began an investigation into allegations that some lobbyists had illegally contributed to political parties on behalf of their clients. On Friday, it announced it was handing the investigation over to RCMP.

Monday's bill not sufficient: Brown

Commenting before Elections BC made their announcement on Friday morning, Brown said there are a number of problems with the bill.

"This bill on Monday is a bit of showmanship but won't do a thing to address the real problem."

It will not include restrictions on union and corporation donations but will require political parties to post online what political donations they receive regularly as opposed to annually.

The bill also won't identify who's attending cash for access fundraisers, the source of donations coming from third parties and dark money groups, or limit sizes of donations, he said.

Brown added the bill does nothing to address what he calls the B.C. Liberals' competitive advantage when it comes to raising political donation.

Last year, the B.C. Liberals were able to raise over $12 million.

"They've raised four or five times more money from large donors than the NDP has and when you're going into an election campaign with double or triple the money the other guys have because you are taking big wads of money from corporate interests that the other party can't and doesn't raise, it's unfair," he said.

Public already subsidizing political parties

Premier Christy Clark has argued if political donations were limited or capped in some way, the cost of elections and funding political parties would unfairly fall to the taxpayer.

Brown said if B.C. had a publicly funded system, the overall costs of elections would go down because parties wouldn't have the same resources to spend on elections.

"They're already capped at $4.4 million during the campaign as to what parties can spend proper," he said.  "But what they're spending these millions and millions of dollars in between, we don't need to be doing that."     

He also pointed out the taxpayer is already indirectly funding political parties with the existence of the political donation tax credit.

"This system is not good for democracy. Other provinces, just about every other province, has recognized this as a problem."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Martyn Brown says B.C. needs campaign finance reform