Show me the money in Vancouver civic election

Vancouver voters would be well advised to heed the classic Watergate injunction to follow the money this year. It always has a story to tell.

In the 2008 election Vancouvers three main political bodies (NPA, Vision and COPE spent nearly $5 million, outspending Toronto politicians dramatically. Toronto civic hopefuls spent $5.13 per voter, while Vancouver groups, unhindered by any spending limits, splashed out an impressive $12.29 per potential backer.

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The 2011 civic elections are shaping up to be a battle of the fundraisers again.

The NPA announced it means to raise $2.4 million for this election, and is aggressively pitching its fundraising to traditional supporters within the business community As Frances Bula revealed in the Globe and Mail in September, last month the NPA fundraisers had already secured more than a million dollars in donations and pledges. Vision has indicated it hopes to match the NPA campaign budget, while COPE, which spent $340,000 on the 2008 election, regularly has the smallest campaign war chest of the three.

An NPA letter recently urged developers not to support Vision, which is guilty, the letter charges, of Attacking private property rights and effectively charging income taxes on the development community. The early success of the NPA funding drive, despite its controversial (and in my view scandalous) connection to local businessman and wannabe strikebreaker Peter Armstrong of Rocky Mountaineer worker lockout fame, suggests that the business community may be shifting more of its support back to NPA this year, after splitting its support between Vision and the NPA in 2008.

Campaign donations are almost always inspired by self interest. Altruistic donors are as rare as shy, self effacing politicians. So an examination of campaign donations is a good idea as we prepare for another election. After all, this city usually gets the government that the deepest pockets support. We might as well know who is funding the best government money can buy.

In future columns, Ill be looking at who the top 2008 money sources were for all the main political players in Vancouver, but since the NPA has been publicly trumpeting its recent fundraising success, it makes sense to begin with them.

It would be more useful to know who is donating to the current campaign, but campaign finance disclosure is only required after the election. Reforms that required donors be disclosed in real time and placing caps on how much can be spent on a campaign would go a long way toward improving the democratic legitimacy of our elections. Maybe Ill expend my own small donation budget this year on supporting any candidate who makes a credible promise to enact such reforms.

Vancouver real estate titan Bob Rennie seems to have been the NPAs top individual donor for the last election, having given $35,000 to the party and another $1,500 to Suzanne Antons run for city council. However, Rennie, like any good businessman, diversified his investment portfolio, giving Vision $16,000 as well.

Other top NPA donors for the 2008 election included Lululemon founder Dennis Wilson, who gave NPA and some of its candidates a total of $20,000, Concord Pacific, Robert J. McDonald and Jimmy Pattison Industries. (It seems counterintuitive to discover no Lululemon support for the lycra-friendly Mayor Gregor Robertson, but that seems to be the evidence on hand in the Vancouver Suns database on municipal campaign donations.)

Concord Pacific put more than $34,000 into the NPA, while giving over $39,000 to Vision. Meanwhile the firms president Terrence Hui more surprisingly, perhaps, gave $2,000 to COPE. Robert J. McDonald and his development firms donations focused solely on the NPA, giving over $18,000.

Jim Pattison industries, like Concord Pacific, hedged its bets, giving $10,000 each to Vision and NPA.

In a future column, more on top donors to NPA, Vision and COPE, and some speculation about what donors might be wishing for after the election.

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