Opinion Column

THE DUEL

Donors wield too much influence

By Laila Yuile, City Hall

The public should know where politicians get their money. (FOTOLIA)

The public should know where politicians get their money. (FOTOLIA)

This week's topic: Should we move to public financing for municipal election campaigns?

I never thought I would see the day that any big municipal campaign would open its books and disclose whose pocket they were in prior to the actual vote - yet it’s happened in this year’s municipal election in Vancouver. For the most part, both Vision Vancouver and the NPA’s contributions are out on the table and it isn't a pretty sight – at least not from my perspective.

Big business is in bed with big unions. Corporate friends are perhaps paving the way for easier business dealings and it’s just one big happy family - except if you are a voter. Why? Because the party and candidate you thought you were voting for suddenly looks different when you see who is contributing the vast amounts of money required to fund these glamorous campaigns. It’s in the millions in Vancouver and it needs to stop.

Municipal voters deserve to know who is funding candidates before they vote, and they need to be assured that those contributions won’t impact future policy creation, contract awards and planning decisions once elected.

It’s a sad state of affairs repeated all over the province that often ends with the biggest funders wielding great influence in municipal business.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

Currently, many people are calling for outright bans on union or corporate donations, and limits on individual contributions. It sounds great in theory, but is easily bypassed by filtering out funds through many individuals and maxing out their contribution. And neither does this method prevent “dark money” from being spent by other organizations, like third-party advertisers that aren’t directly associated with a campaign, or contributions amassed between elections.

That’s why we need to consider a move towards public financing for municipal campaigns. It’s not perfect and there have been obstacles in American states where public election financing has been enacted as they’ve worked through the kinks.

However, by learning from the American experience, legislators in the province would have an advantage in avoiding the same issues here.

Opponents will object to the costs associated with moving to a publicly financed campaign system, but supporters have made excellent points that taxpayers are already paying in over-priced public contracts and rubber-stamped developments sometimes awarded to those big money campaign funders to return the favour.

It’s time to take control of every city hall out of the hands of campaign funders, and back into the hands of the voters. Publicly funded campaigns just might be the solution.

Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com. 

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