By Carol Volkart
As a new party going into the 2022 civic election, TEAM for a Livable Vancouver was scrupulous about following campaign-donation rules. But ABC, which massively outspent other parties to sweep the election, doesn’t seem to have been nearly as careful.
A TEAM review of ABC’s financial disclosure documents found potentially excessive or irregular contributions totalling $119,528.30. TEAM alerted Elections BC to its findings in a July 5 letter, and on Oct. 19 sent another letter with a chart detailing the questionable donations.
“The scope of the apparent violations is significant and strongly points to a pattern of misconduct – of deliberately soliciting and accepting unlawful contributions – rather than occasional inadvertent lapses,” TEAM president Cleta Brown said in her October letter.
She also noted this isn’t the first time ABC Mayor Ken Sim has been in trouble over campaign finances. After his first mayoral run for the NPA in 2018, BC Elections found he had violated the rules with loans he made to his campaign. However, he wasn’t penalized because the violation was considered to be a mistake.
“Mr. Sim has a history of campaign finance violations and is a sophisticated accountancy-trained businessman,” Brown wrote. “It is imperative that the legitimacy of the ABC campaign funds be ascertained.”
TEAM’s review of ABC’s financial disclosure documents, which are publicly available, found many instances of donors apparently exceeding their annual contribution limits. Election rules establish a maximum annual amount that an individual can donate to a party or its endorsed candidates. (The money can be divided between candidates and the party, but must not exceed the maximum amount.)
However, TEAM found instances of donors apparently contributing maximum amounts to both the ABC party and to ABC candidates within the calendar year. Some donors, including two who apparently contributed the maximum amount to Ken Sim four separate times in 2021, were listed as making multiple maximum contributions in the same year. As well, there appeared to be contributions over the anonymous donation limit, and contributions from ineligible entities such as corporations.
TEAM’s review also raised questions about formerly independent candidates who brought their previously collected funds with them when they joined ABC. This pooling of resources appears to have put many donors over the limit, given the restriction on annual contributions to either a party or its candidates.
Queried on the issue, Elections BC responded that previously unaffiliated candidates joining a party must give its financial agent a list of their contributions. “Contributions received above the limit shared by a group of endorsed candidates are required to be returned.”
Brown said ABC, with a war chest “substantially larger than all of the other parties,” appears to have flouted the rules designed to level the playing field in local elections. By contrast, its competitor TEAM “with an entirely volunteer staff strove diligently to adhere to the campaign contribution rules.”
Noting that Elections BC’s response to TEAM’s letters has consistently been that the matter is under review and that the results will be put on its website, Brown suggested a more publicized outcome would be appropriate.
She pointed to the agency’s very public treatment of Progress Vancouver’s campaign-finance violations earlier this year. In that case, Elections BC issued a press release, widely covered in the media, announcing the party had been deregistered and its candidates disqualified from running in local elections until after 2026.
If ABC is found to have violated the rules, Vancouver voters deserve to be similarly informed of the violations and the penalties, said Brown. “There is compelling public interest in this matter.”