Big cor­po­ra­tions are gen­er­ous donors

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - GOR­DON HOEK­STRA ghoek­stra@postmedia.com Twit­ter.com/gor­don_hoek­stra ■GOTO VAN­COU­VER SUN. COM FOR THE LIB­ER­ALS’ TOP 50 DONORS

De­spite the as­ser­tion they’re not look­ing for any­thing spe­cific for their do­na­tions, the top donors do ac­tively lobby for spe­cific goals.

Large cor­po­rate donors to the B.C. Lib­er­als have given big in the past decade, with the Top 50 hand­ing out more than $30 mil­lion since 2005.

That’s more than one-quar­ter of the $118.7 mil­lion raised be­tween 2005 and the first few weeks of 2017, and high­lights the con­cen­tra­tion and po­ten­tial in­flu­ence of big donors on the B.C. Lib­er­als, an ex­am­i­na­tion by Postmedia shows.

The anal­y­sis shows a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion for union do­na­tions to the NDP, where unions in the Top 50 con­trib­u­tors to the party ac­counted for 30 per cent of the $42 mil­lion raised be­tween 2005-2015.

This con­cen­tra­tion of big donors, say ex­perts, is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in a de­bate over whether cor­po­rate and union do­na­tions should be banned and in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions capped as in other pop­u­lous prov­inces — in­clud­ing On­tario, Que­bec and Al­berta — and also fed­er­ally, un­der the premise that money buys in­flu­ence in politics.

The Top 50 donors to the B.C. Lib­er­als in­clude nat­u­ral re­source heavy­weights like the coal and me­tals miner Teck, which gave $2.82 mil­lion, in the No. 1 spot, and en­ergy com­pany Encana ($1.18 mil­lion), miner Gold­corp ($1.08 mil­lion) and forestry com­pany West Fraser ($990,320).

In all, there are 10 nat­u­ral re­source com­pa­nies in the Top 50.

How­ever, the largest group by far among top donors to the Lib­er­als are prop­erty de­vel­op­ers: 21 are in the Top 50.

These de­vel­op­ers in­clude the Aquilini fam­ily, which also owns the Canucks, in the No. 2 spot ($1.43 mil­lion); the Adera Group ($1.1 mil­lion), started by Ken Ma­hon; Wes­bild ($929,576), owned by Fu­ture Shop founder Has­san Khos­row­shahi; and Peter Wall and nephew Bruno Wall ($914,425), who own and man­age Wall Financial Corp.

The Top 50 list also in­cludes Poly­gon, Con­cord Pa­cific, the Beedie Group, Onni, the Redekops, the Ilichs and the Bosas.

The New Car Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents 375 auto deal­er­ships in B.C., con­trib­uted $1.31 mil­lion, in the No. 3 spot.

Postmedia used po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion data from B.C. Elec­tions and data re­leased by the B.C. Lib­er­als for 2016 and the first few weeks of 2017 to com­pile the list.

Mul­ti­ple do­na­tions from the same busi­ness were con­sol­i­dated. Postmedia also amal­ga­mated do­na­tions that came from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies owned by a sin­gle con­trol­ling per­son or in­ter­est. For ex­am­ple, more than $2 mil­lion was do­nated un­der the Teck name, but nearly $800,000 was also con­trib­uted un­der Teck com­pa­nies High­land Val­ley Cop­per and the Elk Val­ley Corp. and by long­time Teck chair­man Nor­man Keevil.

Some prop­erty de­vel­op­ers also gave un­der nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies.

Ken Ma­hon, the founder of Adera, for ex­am­ple, gave un­der more than 30 dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, of­ten with very dif­fer­ent names such as K&T Prop­er­ties, Cartier In­vest­ments, Ter­rapin Mort­gage In­vest­ments and Drifter En­ter­prises.

The Aquili­nis gave un­der dif­fer­ent 24 com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als, Wes­bild un­der 16, and the Beedie Group un­der 10.

Some com­pa­nies, such as Poly­gon Homes, owned by Michael Au­dain, also gave us­ing num­bered com­pa­nies.

The reach of com­pa­nies can also comes in other ways.

Jimmy Pat­ti­son, one of Canada’s rich­est in­di­vid­u­als, is on the Top 50 list, con­tribut­ing nearly $390,000 through such com­pa­nies as Great Pa­cific Cap­i­tal Corp., Over­waitea Foods Group and the Canadian Fish­ing Co. But through his com­pa­nies, Pat­ti­son also holds a 44-per-cent in­ter­est in forestry heavy­weight Can­for, which do­nated $852,566, and a 27-per-cent stake in West­shore Ter­mi­nals, which do­nated an­other $28,250 to the Lib­er­als.

Postmedia tracked down the com­pa­nies by com­par­ing own­ers or se­nior ex­ec­u­tives of the com­pa­nies listed in the B.C. Elec­tions records and by check­ing out com­pany own­er­ship records avail­able through B.C.’s Cor­po­rate Registry, doc­u­ments filed with the Canadian Se­cu­ri­ties Ad­min­is­tra­tors’ SEDAR data­base and on com­pany web­sites.

By amal­ga­mat­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing the donors, a pic­ture emerges of where the big donors are more con­cen­trated, and make up a larger per­cent­age of the to­tal do­na­tions to the Lib­er­als than would ap­pear with­out the anal­y­sis.

With­out the amal­ga­ma­tion, the con­tri­bu­tions of the Top 50 Lib­eral donors would to­tal $20.7 mil­lion. The more com­pre­hen­sive $30.6 mil­lion con­sol­i­dated num­ber, cal­cu­lated by Postmedia, rep­re­sents a 50-per-cent in­crease.

There is also a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween the con­cen­tra­tion of the top donors and those who gave the least.

Start­ing from the bot­tom of the B.C. Lib­er­als’ donors list — from donors who have given $5 and $10 up to peo­ple who have given $5,000 in to­tal since 2005 — it would take more than 27,000 do­na­tions to add up to $30.6 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Postmedia’s anal­y­sis.

Head­ing into the elec­tion this May, the B.C. NDP ad­vo­cates bans on cor­po­rate and union do­na­tions and a cap on in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions. Ad­vo­cacy groups such as In­tegrity B.C. and the Ot­tawa-based Democ­racy Watch have also called for the bans and caps.

The B.C. Lib­er­als have balked, say­ing they be­lieve Bri­tish Columbians are well served by a sys­tem in which po­lit­i­cal par­ties are funded by “in­di­vid­u­als” and “oth­ers” who share their val­ues and goals — with strict cam­paign spend­ing lim­its and full dis­clo­sure of do­na­tions.

Christo­pher Cot­ton, a Queen’s Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mist, said the Postmedia data anal­y­sis shows ban­ning cor­po­rate and union do­na­tions would level the fundrais­ing play­ing field be­cause the Lib­er­als are more able to raise large cor­po­rate do­na­tions.

Cot­ton said it also shows al­low­ing cor­po­rate do­na­tions de­creases trans­parency be­cause many com­pa­nies can be con­trolled by the same per­son.

“The con­tri­bu­tions look more dif­fused than they ac­tu­ally are — they are much more con­cen­trated in re­al­ity,” said Cot­ton.

“If only in­di­vid­u­als could give — if only the own­ers of these com­pa­nies, for ex­am­ple, could give — and you would see the money given only in one place, that would be more trans­par­ent.”

These is­sues are im­por­tant, said Cot­ton, be­cause the con­cern is that pol­icy is go­ing to shift in the di­rec­tion of those who are your big sup­port­ers.

That may not hap­pen ex­plic­itly — with cash ex­changed for favours — but be­cause those who you rely on for con­tri­bu­tions are more likely to get your ear, to get your time and have your ef­fort on their be­half, said Cot­ton.

A 2013 re­port by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment con­cluded that money in­flu­ences politics. The re­port, Money in Politics: Sound Po­lit­i­cal Com­pe­ti­tion and Trust in Govern­ment, also noted: “When law­mak­ers rep­re­sent or ap­pear to rep­re­sent financial in­ter­ests rather than the vot­ers, the vot­ers lose trust in rep­re­sen­ta­tive govern­ment.”

Univer­sity of B.C. econ­o­mist Matilde Bom­bar­dini said in prin­ci­ple the idea that you want to favour small cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from a large num­ber of peo­ple, rather than con­cen­tra­tion from big donors, is a good one.

“But I can­not tell you we have de­fin­i­tive proof that these large con­tri­bu­tions buy pol­icy,” said Bom­bar­dini, who has stud­ied cam­paign fi­nanc­ing in the U.S.

The top cor­po­rate donors to the B.C. Lib­er­als and the top union donors to the NDP say they are not look­ing for any spe­cific re­turn for their do­na­tions — no quid pro quo.

“We do not ex­pect any favours — well, other than a strong econ­omy,” said Blair Qua­ley, pres­i­dent and CEO of the New Car Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

In­stead, both the big cor­po­rate donors and the big union donors say they sim­ply sup­port the party that best ide­o­log­i­cally matches their phi­los­o­phy on the econ­omy and so­cial is­sues.

“As a com­pany, we sup­port po­lit­i­cal par­ties that share our goal of re­spon­si­ble de­vel­op­ment along with in­creased eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in B.C.,” Encana spokesman Jay Aver­ill said in a writ­ten re­sponse.

Prop­erty de­vel­op­ers who topped the Lib­eral donor list — the Aquili­nis and Adera — did not re­spond to re­quests for in­ter­views. Reached by phone, Wes­bild owner Khos­row­shahi de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

De­spite the as­ser­tion they are not look­ing for any­thing spe­cific for their do­na­tions, the top cor­po­rate and union donors do ac­tively lobby for spe­cific goals, fil­ings with the B.C. Lob­by­ist Registry show.

The New Car Deal­ers group has lob­bied on tail pipe emis­sions, tax pol­icy and skills train­ing for the auto in­dus­try.

Teck has had as many as 11 lob­by­ists reg­is­tered on is­sues that in­clude cli­mate change pol­icy, tax­a­tion, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment agree­ments with First Na­tions, per­mit fees, en­ergy com­pet­i­tive­ness, sol­vency re­serves un­der the Pen­sions Ben­e­fit Stan­dards Act and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in the Elk Val­ley in south­east­ern B.C.

Encana has em­ployed as many as 28 lob­by­ists on items such as in­fra­struc­ture for re­source de­vel­op­ment, reg­u­la­tions for fracking, green­house gas emis­sion poli­cies, roy­alty pro­grams and elec­tric­ity rates.

The Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, which rep­re­sents prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, lob­bied on the prop­erty trans­fer tax, the Real Es­tate De­vel­op­ment Mar­ket­ing Act, pro­vin­cial land-use de­ci­sions and tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment.

The tar­gets of these lob­by­ists, on be­half of the com­pa­nies, have in­cluded cab­i­net min­is­ters and Premier Christy Clark, as well as MLAs.

And while com­pa­nies say they sup­port the party that best matches their free-en­ter­prise phi­los­o­phy, in the run-up to the May 2013, elec­tion, when it was widely ex­pected the NDP would win, the top donors to the Lib­er­als sud­denly ramped up do­na­tions to the New Democrats.

Among the Top 50 cor­po­rate donors to the Lib­er­als, 29 also do­nated more than $926,000 to the NDP in 2012 and the spring of 2013. That was five times more than the Top 50 Lib­eral donors had con­trib­uted to the NDP in all other years and nearly 90 times more than in the run-up to the 2009 elec­tion when only two of the Top 50 com­pa­nies gave to the NDP, ac­cord­ing to Postmedia’s anal­y­sis.

Teck, Gold­corp, West Fraser and Encana did not re­spond to a ques­tion about their sud­den in­creased giv­ing in 2013.

In an in­ter­view, New Car Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Qua­ley did not di­rectly an­swer why they ramped up do­na­tions to the NDP. In­stead, he said the as­so­ci­a­tion tries to sup­port democ­racy by giv­ing to both par­ties.

In the run-up to the 2013 elec­tion, the car deal­ers gave $70,700 to the NDP. In all other years, the as­so­ci­a­tion gave just over $15,000.

Cot­ton, the Queen’s Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mist, said the sud­den in­crease shows clearly that the com­pa­nies be­lieve, at the least, that do­nat­ing to a party that may be in power will give them ac­cess.

Part 2: On Tues­day, we look at top donors to the NDP.


Lib­eral leader Christy Clark visits Cop­per Moun­tain Mine in Princeton dur­ing a cam­paign stop for the 2013 pro­vin­cial elec­tion. Ten nat­u­ral re­sources com­pa­nies were among the Top 50 donors to the Lib­eral party since 2005, an anal­y­sis by Postmedia shows.


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