Changes to British Columbia’s campaign finance rules have hobbled the BC Liberals’ once-mighty fundraising machine.
New details published Monday by Elections BC confirmed that the NDP are now out-performing the Liberals in raising money since the province’s lax campaign finance law was re-written, imposing new limits on spending and fundraising by political parties.
“They significantly out-hustled us on the $250-or-less category,” Emile Scheffel said in an interview. “It’s obviously a challenging transition to the new rules.”
Elections BC posted political contributions from the last six months of 2018, showing the NDP brought in $2-million in that time – almost half of which came from individual donors who contributed $250 or less. The Liberals took in almost $1.7-million in that period, and only $340,000 of the total came from small donors. (The Greens took in a total of $439,000.)
“Let’s be honest: The other side have more money and more power,” the Liberal’s executive director, Emille Scheffel, wrote in an update to party insiders in December, marking the end of the first year of fundraising under the current rules.
Campaign finance reform was a significant issue in the 2017 provincial election after the BC Liberal government came under fire for what became known as the “wild west” of political fundraising, including lucrative, private cash-for-access fundraisers with lawmakers. In the first six months of 2017, the governing Liberals raised $6.6-million, while the NDP opposition brought in just $1.6-million.
After the NDP formed a minority government, they introduced legislation in the fall of 2017 to get “big money” out of politics. It bans out-of-province contributions, and caps individual donations at $1,200 annually to a political party and its candidates.
The law includes a “transition allowance” for the three parties currently represented in the B.C. legislature based on the number of votes each political party earned in the 2017 election. Last year, both the NDP and the Liberal parties received almost $2-million in public funds, while the Greens took in just over $800,000. The per-vote subsidy will be reduced this year, and may be phased out over time.
The subsidy was a policy flip-flop for the NDP who had initially said public funding was not part of campaign finance reform. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson protested the subsidy, saying taxpayers should not be financing parties directly. But they are not turning down the money now.
Mr. Scheffel said his party is learning to adapt, and that’s a good thing. “The benefit of the current situation is that we have to talk to more people, and it requires us to bring back that grassroots focus, to understand peoples' anxieties and priorities,” he said. “I think we will be stronger for it.”
Raj Sihota, provincial director of the BC NDP, said the new rules have required a shift in fundraising as her party no longer can count on large contributions from unions. “We have been using our transitional allowance to talk more to voters. It’s a big shift to fundraising, we all have a lot to learn."
It means more outreach to individual supporters throughout the year at smaller community events or through e-mail and telephone contact, she said.
“It seems to be a strategy that’s working. We’re going to keep doing more of the same. … People are happy with what the government is doing.”
But Mr. Scheffel said his party is raising cash based on government actions that have not made people happy, such as the real estate speculation tax and the failed referendum on electoral reform. “Our strongest fundraising success is reminding folks when the government does something unpopular, and we have a strong alternative to offer."
The New Democrats were able to form a minority government following the 2017 election by forging an alliance with the Greens, ending the Liberals' 16 years in power. Although the next scheduled election is more than two years away, all three parties are working on election readiness in case the minority government falls.