This is the fifth and final posting about how the BC Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA) will impact the upcoming elections – from John Whistler, the Financial Agent for the Green Party of Vancouver.
This posting describes key provisions that are missing in the LECFA and the support provided by Elections BC.
The most significant omission of the LECFA is that there are no audit provisions for candidates, electoral organizations or third-party sponsors. In comparison, Elections Canada requires an audit for a federal campaign that exceeds $5,000 and Elections BC requires an audit for a provincial campaign that exceeds $10,000.
Candidates, electoral organizations and third-party sponsors can complete their public disclosure statements as they see fit, without a standardized framework and without concern for an audit. Elections BC is put in the impossible position of overseeing public disclosures without the accountability that an audit provision would provide. All credibility is lost without an audit provision. Local elections are no less important to the democratic process than federal or provincial elections.
The expectation for campaign audits should be central to the LECFA. The regulations and disclosure reports should be designed to facilitate an audit process and to minimize audit costs. Requirements for multiple bank accounts, multiple reporting periods, multiple jurisdictions and complex reports instead makes audits more complicated and costly.
Elections BC does not have any tools for candidates, electoral organizations or third party sponsors to use to assist in the completion of their disclosure statements. By comparison, Elections Canada has a compulsory software package that financial agents must use to create their contribution receipts and disclosure statements. This software file then becomes the framework for an audit. In the absence of a specific software package, Elections BC could provide a spreadsheet template as a framework to manage transactions for financial agents. Without this framework there is no standardized direction for financial agents and auditing becomes more difficult for either Elections BC or a third party auditor.
There are no public subsidies for local elections, with an audit allowance being the bare minimum. Elections Canada provides up to $1,500 when a campaign reaches the audit threshold, which is typically adequate their prescribed framework is followed.
Public subsidies are a core part of best practices election financing regulations as they level the playing field between incumbents, well financed and established electoral organizations and new candidates or emerging electoral organizations. Unfortunately, election campaign public subsidies have been demonized by self-serving politicians who are protecting their incumbency. This includes Stephen Harper who removed the federal electoral organization per vote subsidy and Christy Clark who justified unlimited contributions in the 2014 LECFA in order not to have public subsidies.
Elections BC does not have the capacity to adequately review financial disclosure reports to ensure compliance. This is not a case of an unhelpful bureaucracy; indeed staff at Elections BC are very helpful to financial agents who need considerable support to understand the confusing requirements. This is also not a case of a lack of Elections BC auditors, whose job is made more difficult because of no audit provision or standardized reporting tools. Instead, this is a political and structural problem because of the complexities and flaws of the LECFA. Elections BC could be more efficient and effective if the LECFA was to be amended to adopt better practices.
It is hard to understand the motivations of the Christy Clark Liberal government when they first passed the LECFA in 2014. However, adopting best-practices election financing regulations was obviously not a priority. The cynic might say their motivations were simply to benefit themselves and their financial supporters. The NDP government now has an opportunity to improve the LECFA and the democratic process for local elections.