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Big money donations leaving municipal politics

 

Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

There has been plenty of discussion about getting big money out of provincial politics. But changes are coming to the local scene as well.

Campaign finance reforms announced yesterday by the British Columbia government are designed to limit the influence of big money on local elections.

“With this legislation, people can be confident that their local and provincial governments will be working for all voters, not just those able to write the largest cheques,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in a press release. “Our government has already taken action to get big money out of politics at the provincial level. These amendments will make sure that democracy at the local level works for everyone, not just a select few.”

The legislation would ban corporate and union donations, put limits on individual contributions and ban out-of-province donations at the local level.

Contributions for the election campaign of a candidate or elector organization will be limited to $1,200 per donor per year. One donor’s total contributions to the election campaign for an elector organization and all of its endorsed candidates cannot exceed this amount. These changes follow the approach of the proposed provincial Election Amendment Act.

“B.C. local governments have been asking for a ban on corporate and union donations and a cap on contributions to local election campaigns since 2015,” said Wendy Booth, Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) president. “We reaffirmed this request just last month, and appreciate the commitment demonstrated by Minister Robinson to address this issue. The proposed changes will support fairness during campaigns and make running for office more accessible by strengthening the rules for local elections.”

The proposed amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act follow consultations with key stakeholders such as Elections BC and UBCM, which represents B.C.’s 189 local governments and the Islands Trust.

“Elected officials have the privilege and responsibility of representing their citizens, and this legislation helps ensure that campaigning for public office is conducted fairly,” said Nils Jensen, mayor of Oak Bay. “The District of Oak Bay has strongly advocated for local elections campaign financing reform. We appreciate Minister Robinson bringing this forward in such a timely fashion. It’s clearly in the best interest of candidates and the public—and it’s the right thing to do.”

The amendments will apply to all local elections starting with the 2018 general local elections and any byelections thereafter, including campaigns for councillors, mayors, electoral area directors and school trustees.

Once passed, the changes will be retroactive to Oct. 31, 2017, the day after the first reading of the legislation. To allow candidates to transition to the new campaign financing framework, contributions allowed under the former rules and received before Oct. 31, 2017, may be used for the 2018 general local elections.

Contributions by individuals (applies to the 2018 general local elections and beyond):

  • Restricted to individuals who are residents of British Columbia and who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
  • Contribution limits are set at $1,200 for the election campaign of a candidate or elector organization per donor per year. This means that one donor’s total contributions to the election campaign for an elector organization and all of its endorsed candidates cannot exceed $1,200 per year.
  • These contribution limits will apply provincewide for the 2018 general local elections.

Union and corporate contributions (applies to the 2018 general local elections and beyond):

  • Donations from any corporation, union or other organization to local candidates, elector organizations, third-party advertisers, and assent voting advertisers are prohibited.

Loans (applies to the 2018 general local elections and beyond):

  • Loans to candidates, elector organizations, third-party sponsors, and assent-voting advertising sponsors must be from a savings institution at not less than prime rate or from an eligible individual (eligible individuals are those persons who may make contributions). “Assent voting” is generally voting on a bylaw or other matter for which a local government is required to obtain the assent of the electors. Assent voting may also be referred to as a “referendum”, but not all referenda are assent voting.
  • The amount of a loan provided by an eligible individual to a candidate or elector organization would count toward the contribution limit and therefore cannot exceed $1,200 per year.

Election advertising sponsors:

  • An election advertising sponsor (generally known as a third-party advertiser) is an individual or organization that sponsors election advertising independently of a candidate or elector organization. Third-party advertisers must register with Elections BC, and record and disclose information about contributions and expenditures related to election advertising.
  • The legislation will amend the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act with the intention of ensuring that small-scale advertising and individual self-expression (for example, people who put up home-made signs) are not subject to these third-party advertiser rules.
  • The amendment ensures the treatment of third-party advertisers in the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act is consistent with the provincial Election Act and is in response to a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision.

School trustees (applies to the 2018 general local elections and beyond):

  • Board of education trustees are elected as part of general local elections.
  • This legislation will apply to candidates for school trustee, just as it does for other candidates seeking locally elected office.

Implementation:

  • These changes will be in place for the October 2018 general local elections and beyond.
  • Once this legislation is passed, the new rules will be applied retroactively to Oct. 31, 2017, the day after the first reading of the bill.
  • To allow candidates to transition to the new campaign financing framework, contributions allowed under the former rules and received before Oct. 31, 2017, may be used for the 2018 general local elections and are not limited to $1,200.
  • However, contributions received on or after Oct. 31, 2017, will be subject to the new rules and are limited to $1,200.
  • If a candidate, elector organization or third-party advertiser becomes aware that they have received a contribution on or after Oct. 31, 2017, that contravenes the new rules, they will have to return that contribution.

Election expense limits (based on 2016 amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act):

  • The 2016 amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act put in place expense limits for candidates, elector organizations and third-party advertisers. (see details below)
  • The cap on expenses follows a consistent formula for all candidates and is generally based on the population of an election area.
  • As legislation around expense limits for local elections has already been passed, these changes will be in effect for the 2018 general local elections as well.
  • Candidates will need to follow the rules guiding expense limits and, as of Oct. 31, 2017, will need to follow the rules on contribution limits as well.

Expense limits for candidates:

  • In communities with a population of fewer than 10,000 people, the expense limit will be $10,000 for mayoral candidates and $5,000 for all other candidates.
  • In communities with a population of 10,000 or more, expense limits will be determined using a per-capita formula to recognize that the size of the community can affect a candidate’s campaign costs.

Expense limits for elector organizations:

  • An elector organization will not have its own expense limit. Instead, endorsed candidates will sign over a portion of their expense limit for the elector organization to spend during the campaign period via a campaign financing arrangement (CFA). This approach is to ensure neutrality between endorsed and independent candidates.
  • Elector organizations will be required to attribute campaign period expenses to each endorsed candidate.

Expense limits for third-party advertising:

  • Under the third-party advertising framework, expense limits will apply to both directed adverting and issue advertising:

    • The limit for directed advertising will be the following:

      • In a community that has a population of fewer than 15,000 people, the directed advertising limit is $750.
      • In a community that has a population of 15,000 people or more, the directed advertising limit will generally be 5% of the mayoral candidate (or candidate) expense limit in the corresponding election area.
    • The limit for issue advertising is not easily tied to a specific election area and will be subject to a separate, overall limit of $150,000.

      • This overall limit will also act as the maximum amount that a third-party advertiser can spend in total (e.g., directed advertising and issue advertising must not exceed $150,000).

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