Neiman: Money and power: the co-joined twins of politics

It’s too easy to simply get angry when province after province — and including the federal government — sells special access to governors as a partisan fundraiser.

If you want to believe that government acts on behalf of groups that make large donations and not on behalf of the people that voted for them, you need look no further than that. Special, exclusive — and paid — access to lawmakers damages the legitimacy of elections, and brings our whole concept of democracy into contempt.

Not to say that very many Canadian governments haven’t sunk to that level. They have. But when they’re caught, parties of all stripes learn that offering private interviews to wealthy clients in return for generous donations comes at a price.

That’s why six of our provinces, most recently Ontario, have proposed or passed laws limiting the size of donations that can be made, and limiting the list of who can be donors.

In Alberta not long ago, when it became widely known that municipalities and tax-supported institutions were regularly sending donations to the long-ruling Conservatives, that insidious practice was stopped.

In Saskatchewan, Canada’s last bastion of Wild West fundraising rules, there’s no cap on how much corporations or unions can donate to political parties. In fact, out-of-province groups have sent millions to Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party (by far, mostly from Alberta).

You can even set up a numbered corporation in Alberta and donate unlimited amounts to a political party in Saskatchewan, making it much more difficult for any average voter to know who is behind the donation. You can gather that money from anywhere, and who would know?

So when Brad Wall opens his mouth in opposition to Canada’s efforts to mitigate climate change, whose voice is really speaking?

So let’s go ahead and put a tight cap on political donations. (Quebec, which has been stung by perceptions of influence peddling, now has a cap of just $100 per year for political donations. That’s a full third more than the Quebecers’ median donations to charity, but there you are.)

But be careful how you do that. Money and power are the co-joined twins of politics everywhere, and it would take better surgery than that to make some room for justice and equity.

The reason why is right in front of us.

In early January, Kellyanne Conway, the manager of US president-elect Donald Trump’s poisonous election campaign, will be come to Alberta for a paid speech to Calgary business leaders. And for a tour of the oilsands projects at Fort McMurray.

Personally, I’m hoping for minus 40 with a howling windchill for that week, but climate change, unpredictable it is, will likely disappoint me.

I don’t object to her visit or her speech. I object to the reason for it.

She was invited to headline a fundraiser for a new group called the Alberta Prosperity Fund. It’s our version of America’s political action group (PAC) and their billionaire-run big brothers, the Super PACs.

This is what we’ll get if we ban or cap political donations without thinking things through. Alberta Prosperity Fund, managed by longtime Tory insiders, has chosen Jason Kenney to become leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party — and there’s not much inside it that appears to be progressive.

Their web site claims need for action because of all the “special interest groups” that are currently running our whole society into the ground, according to the fund’s backers.

Those enviro-pinkos who oppose pipelines for instance; they have a lot of money behind them, right? Ditto those obstreperous native groups. Same with those bleeding-heart refugee-lovers.

If we didn’t like groups with special interests giving big donations to parties that support their views — out in the open where it’s all easily seen — we’re really going to hate shadow groups who claim no official party affiliations, but support just the opposite.

It’s called free speech and freedom of association.

You can’t separate money from power in the dark. It’s hard enough to do that in the light of day.

As the federal Liberal Party has amply shown us, the current fundraising rules can be stretched pretty far. At least now, when they are stretched to the point of abuse, we can know who’s done it — and punish them if we want to.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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