The law of unintended consequences

Get the money out of politics - it's a common refrain among political reformers and one that was heard again last week following news that special prosecutors and their law firms have made donations to the governing Liberals. But as someone who has spent countless hours and days reading through campaign disclosure statements - and yes, by the way, that is how I spend my spared time - I have some serious concerns about the unintended consequences of such a reform.

For example, the ban won't prevent corporate and union interests from bankrolling the province's parties. After all, individuals donations can and will still be made by their members, employees and executives. So unless reporters can connect those individuals back to the corporations or unions they work for or belong to - which is near impossible in the case of privately-held companies - the influence of those interests will go unreported.

That ban could also increase the power of fundraisers. After all, if parties can't get large donations from a small number of corporations or unions, they'll greater need for bagmen who can get smaller donations from a larger number of individuals. But unless those fundraisers are required to publicly disclose their activities - another near impossibility - it'll be difficult to find out who they are and what increase influence they might have over the parties they bankroll.

I could go on. But I think you understand what I'm getting at. Because even though a ban on corporate and union donations might look good on paper, in practice it may just make it more difficult to find out who are pulling the strings of power in British Columbia.

6 Comments

Any new law to prohibit donations by unions and corporations can also regulate other forms of fundraising too. That's the beauty of lawmaking; they can enforce new sunshine legislation to reveal donors to parties through any vehicle its raised through. For that matter, third party advertisers should be subject to the same disclosure rules.

I think you may be overestimating the ability of an employer, whether corporate or union, to tell their employees/members who to donate their money to. Perhaps in the private sector they could make continued employment contingent upon a donation, but I don't think union members would wait too long to start filing grievances if their union started telling them they had to give money to a political party.

I cannot say which is better; however, the more light that can be shed on who is donating to which party the better, IMHO. That way we know who is supporting who and may have some expectations of a "sympathetic ear" on policy decisions, etc.

As an aside, I'm already not happy with the fact that my union uses part of the dues I pay to make political donations. How dare they decide which political party "I" should be supporting. What I wish they would do (or be forced to do) is provide their members with the option of making a political donation and we can then specify the amount of money they can collect from us, over and above our union dues, for this purpose.

"Perhaps in the private sector they could make continued employment contingent upon a donation, but I don't think union members would wait too long to start filing grievances if their union started telling them they had to give money to a political party."

It's simply agaisnt the law do that. An employer worth even
one cent wouldn't even consider trying that since such a wrong move would mean instant bad publicity especially if
an employee was smart enough to record such a stupid idea.

The union members can amongst themselves decide not to donate local union money to the NDP. They only need the will
to face their shop steward and the business agent to do it.

Sean, nothing would be totally foolproof. As I've stated before on many different sights, until the system that we employ to elect our representatives, nothing will change.

You can make laws or rules until the cows come home and there will always be some strategists that will find ways to circumvent them.

The best way would be to get rid of political parties. They act no better than the gangs that have been terrorizing the lower mainland. The only thing they avoid is bumping off those that are their enemies, as far as we know.

Anne, I realize that it is illegal, but I can quite easily picture the senior partners of some law firm hosting a fundraiser for a certain political party, and if an employee doesn't participate maybe they don't get considered for that promotion or something like that. Maybe nothing explicit, but over time if you don't play ball with your employer you won't be looked upon favourably.

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