by Sal Robinson
This explainer is mostly about people making cash or in-kind donations to municipal parties. It doesn’t deal with fundraising events that elector organizations hold, or third party anything. Vancouver is the example, but the rules are the same province-wide.
The rules for donating to municipal candidates and parties are outlined in the provincial Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA) which is administered by Elections BC (EBC), a non-partisan office of the legislature.
The most basic rules are about
· WHO may donate (contribute),
· HOW MUCH that person may give annually,
· WHAT HAPPENS if the rules are broken, and
· PENALTIES for breaking the rules.
All donations (money, services, etc.) are considered campaign contributions.
WHO may make a campaign contribution? Only an eligible individual, someone who
· is a person (not a couple, not an organization, not a company)
· is a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident
· lives in British Columbia.
HOW MUCH can an eligible individual donate? Lots, actually, but with strict guidelines. It all depends on jurisdictions and party endorsements.
· EBC sets a maximum amount that can be given each year to a party (“Elector Organization” or “EO” for short) and its endorsed candidates, or to an independent candidate.
· The maximum for a single jurisdiction in 2022 was $1250. In 2021 it was $1239.18, in 2020 it was $1224.60 and in 2019 and 2018 it was $1200.
· Vancouver has two jurisdictions: municipal and school district.
· For example, in Vancouver, one contributor could choose to support each of three EOs (such as ABC, Forward Together, TEAM) in both their municipal and school board campaigns (2 campaigns x 3 parties) for six times the maximum in a year. That same contributor could also support any number of independent candidates, each to the maximum.
· It’s worth repeating that one may not exceed the maximum contribution to an EO and its endorsed candidates. For example, if in 2022 someone gave $1250 to ABC and then $1250 to its endorsed candidate Ken Sim, the second donation is a prohibited excess contribution. For another example, if someone gave $1200 to a candidate on four occasions in 2021 when the annual limit was $1239.18, a prohibited contribution of $3560.82 resulted.
· There is no loophole that allows independent candidates to fundraise and then pool their resources when they receive a party endorsement the next year. For example, in 2021 Donor X gave $1200 each to Independent Candidates A, B and C. Donor X contributed a total of $3600, but that was fine because the candidates were not affiliated with each other or with a party. The next year, Candidates A, B and C joined an EO and received its endorsement – also fine. But, each gave the money raised while independent to their EO, with the result that Donor X was then in violation of LECFA, having donated $3600 in a year when the maximum allowable was $1239.18. Not fine.
WHAT HAPPENS if excess contributions are made? The buck stops first with the EO’s financial agent (FA) and then with EBC.
All elector organizations must have an FA, who is legally responsible for administering campaign finances in accordance with LECFA.
· Critical responsibilities of the FA relevant to campaign contributions include:
o keeping complete and accurate campaign financing records of all transfers and campaign contributions (including the name and residential address of the donor, the amount of the donation and the date of the donation);
o ensuring campaign contributions are only received from eligible individuals and that such contributions do not exceed the contribution limit;
o approving and signing a separate campaign financing arrangement for each of the elector organization’s candidates;
o accepting and depositing permitted campaign contributions;
and submitting these and other records to EBC when the time comes.
· It is an offence to make or knowingly accept a prohibited contribution. If the FA becomes aware that a contribution is prohibited, they must return the contribution, or an amount equal to its value, within 30 days.
· Once the FA has submitted all the forms and disclosures to EBC (by 90 days after the election) they are scrutinized by EBC compliance officers.
· If the B.C. Chief Electoral Officer makes the determination that an EO accepted a campaign contribution that is not in compliance with LECFA, he must notify the EO of non-compliance within seven days of making the determination, and the related penalty. Non-compliance includes:
o Contributions from ineligible sources (e.g., from organizations or individuals who are not eligible individuals)
o Contributions that exceed the contribution limit
o Anonymous contributions of more than $50
There are monetary penalties for individuals who make excess contributions, for EOs that accept them, and for their FAs if they fail to properly handle a prohibited contribution.
· An individual or organization that makes or accepts a prohibited campaign contribution is liable to pay a monetary penalty of up to double the amount of the prohibited contribution, as determined by the B.C. Chief Electoral Officer.
· A financial agent that does not properly return or remit a prohibited contribution is liable to pay a monetary penalty of up to double the amount of the prohibited contribution, as determined by the B.C. Chief Electoral Officer.
Are the names of all donors disclosed?
· No, only the names of significant contributors (people who contribute $100 or more) are made public.
Can children donate to a campaign?
· Yes, but only using their own money. Parents may not make prohibited indirect contributions by giving money to their children to donate under their own names. (Can that rule be enforced? Probably not.)
Can someone make a loan to a campaign?
· Yes, but only if the amount of the loan plus any campaign contribution the lender has made does not exceed the maximum annual limit.
What about anonymous contributions?
· Anonymous contributions up to $50 are acceptable. (Can that rule be enforced? Probably not.)
How does the public find out who donated to a Vancouver party?
· At this link, https://contributions.electionsbc.gov.bc.ca/pcs/SIGSearch.aspx, find the name of the party in the Endorsement field. You can refine your search by candidate, dates, jurisdiction (municipal or school), etc.
How would an FA find out about everything that has to be done?
How long does it take EBC to audit the submissions?
· Months (certainly) or years (probably). Penalties are posted here: https://elections.bc.ca/resources/investigations/administrative-monetary-penalties/
Why did the Progress Vancouver get sanctioned so relatively quickly?
· They failed to meet disclosure deadlines and requirements. EBC put out a media release: https://elections.bc.ca/news/progress-vancouver-deregistered-candidates-disqualified/