Christy Clark announces panel to investigate political fundraising

The B.C. Liberal government has announced the formation of a special panel to look into the province's political fundraising rules, following heavy criticism of the governing party's own practices. 

Premier Christy Clark announced Monday that the deputy attorney general has been asked to form an independent panel of non-partisan experts to consider ideas around campaign finance reform.

"What I'm proposing today is a process to take political parties and politicians out of the process," said Clark. "Regular review is important because there hasn't been significant changes since 1995."

The premier said the panel will consider changes, including some already brought forward to the legislature by the NDP and Green Party, as well as submissions from citizens.

Why now?

The panel will report to the legislative assembly but won't be in place in time for the May 9 provincial election.

The B.C. Liberals have sloughed off the idea of reforming campaign finance rules in the past. Clark did not say what changed her mind. 

Currently, there are few limitations to how political parties can raise funds in the province. The B.C. Liberals raised over $12 million last year.

Last week it was announced that the RCMP is investigating potential Elections Act violations involving allegedly illegal lobbyist donations to the B.C. Liberal Party.

The B.C. Liberal Party has also been criticized for its practice of throwing high priced "pay for access" events featuring the premier and cabinet ministers.

And until recently Christy Clark was paid a stipend of $50,000 per year from the B.C. Liberal Party, in addition to the wage she collects as premier.

'Late in the day,' says NDP

Opposition leader John Horgan says with less than 60 days to the election today's announcement is "late in the day."

"For the premier, with her pockets full of corporate money, with the RCMP investigating her fundraising tactics, with $300,000 in second salary from the Liberal Party safely in her bank account, now she's starting to think twice?" he told CBC's The Early Edition.

In January the B.C. NDP brought forward legislation to ban corporate and union donations for a sixth time. It was voted down in the legislature on five previous occasions.

Despite its opposition, however, the NDP has has continued to accept donations from unions and corporations.

"I think that is reasonable given that we have to fight an election campaign against the most well-funded corporate government that money can buy," he said, adding many of his party's donors were individuals who contributed less than $250.

Horgan said his party has "nothing to hide."

He said if he was elected premier, one of his first acts would be to ban corporate and union donations.

'A smokescreen'

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver called the announcement a smokescreen.

"Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals pretend that they are showing leadership on an unethical and unaccountable electoral finance system that they have exploited for massive partisan gain."

The B.C. Green Party does not accept corporate and union donations.

Clark also announced her government is introducing a bill to require real time disclosure of political donations.