B.C. LIBERALS CASH IN
Big corporations are generous 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.