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Friday, September 15, 2006

“Money! Money! Money! – It’s a Rich Man’s World”

My apologies to ABBA (sic) but this title captures the key issues around disclosure of PC leadership campaign financing. The issues that are heating up including the appropriateness of out of province campaign contributions. Transparency, accountability and disclosure are all aspects of the personal integrity of any candidate for public office.

OK the shallow minded policy purists can say the PC Party is a private organization and it is not necessary to disclose donor data. That attitude won’t cut it and besides, the winner here is also the Premier of the Province, so I think we have a right to know the score. The provincial election campaign disclosure standards ought to be, at a minimum, the requirements of the PC leadership candidates. Where did you get it and how did you spend it? With no rules coming from the PC Party, this issue could be one of the key and decisive character indicators of the various candidates. It is already forming as a campaign wedge issue.

Dinning and Dr. Morton are raising money outside Alberta. Why? Because they can! But should they? Dinning is reported, in Mark Lisac’s Insight Into Government newsletter as raising – and presumably spending - $3 million on his leadership campaign. A cool $1 million more than Stephen Harper spent to become leader of the federal Conservatives. Dinning has arguably been campaigning since he left politics in 1997 – surely he has enough money by now. Dr. Morton is chasing BC bucks from “like minded people” – whatever that means - but it sounds kind of austere doesn’t it, given what we know of Dr. Morton’s mind. To the ordinary Albertan this looks like elites and special interests buying influence and access to the seat of power in Alberta. Maybe not but time will tell…if either of them wins! It sure add to citizen's cynicism...just read the Letters to the Editor in the newspapers.

Norris says he has the high road on campaign disclosure. However, why would 106 well heeled individuals cough up $10K each for what should be a non-deductible campaign contribution, but is positioned as “buying consulting services” - from a political candidate? That is the Norris campaign funding model. The scheme is designed so “donors” can deduct the money they “spend” in exchange for “consulting services” from candidate Norris. His campaign contributions are being proffered as a tax deductible expense.

Clever - don't you think? Help your candidate and pay less tax instead of making a straight up non-deductible political donation. It may be legal, I don’t know, but does it pass your “sniff test?” I like lower taxes as much as the next guy but really! I hope he got an advance tax ruling on the scheme.

Does tax deductibility also mean, in effect, we are all unwittingly contributing in some way to the Norris campaign? Our governments are getting less revenue with his tax scheme for campaign funding. Does this mean lost tax revenues get made up by other charges or by reduced government services? Beats me, but hopefully the taxman looks into these business transaction/political donations and will let us know if it is proper.

If it is an appropriate tax avoidance scheme, then are the rest of us also funding the Norris campaign? Please list my contribution as “anonymous.” Not because I don’t want people to know I am helping out Mark as a taxpayer and citizen- but because I didn’t even know I was ;-}.

Why do some donors insist on anonymity? There are a number of reasons for this. Sometime big money movers and shakers hedge their “bets” by giving to more than one candidate. They still want each individual candidate to think they have the donor’s undying loyalty. Insisting on anonymity achieves both ends. Some anonymous donations may be ethically questionable, like from people associated with government agencies, boards and commissions that are supposed to be arms length from politics. Some donors just do not want to be bothered by other requests for money and ask to be anonymous.

Candidates should just tell us how many anonymous donors and the amount of each contribution. We citizens can then judge for ourselves what that implies (or not) about the receiving candidate’s judgment and the nature of his support. Simple solution don’t you think?