Editorial: Why Wait? Politicians Can Change Fundraising Now
Kathleen Wynne has promised new rules for political fundraising in Ontario after a series of news reports revealed just how the cash is changing hands at Queen’s Park. A cool $1,600 a head for a dinner with the premier. Ministers personally responsible for raising hundreds of thousands on behalf of the party. In Ontario, it’s beginning to look like “fundraising” means buying access to cabinet.
Raising money, as several politicians have rushed to remind us, is integral to the democratic process; you can’t run a party without funds. That’s true. But you can certainly raise them in ways that are more transparent to the public and less inviting to those who might make big donations in the hope of buying influence.
Trying to quell the issue, Wynne has promised sterner government regulations on political donations, and the other parties – who snuffle at the same trough – agree tougher rules are needed.
What would they look like? Broadly, Ontario allows maximum contributions of $9,975 annually from individuals, corporations and unions – and more during campaign periods. New rules would likely ban corporate and union donations, taking the province down the path carved by Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper. The rules for federal parties say broadly that only individuals can donate, to a maximum of $1,525 annually.
But Ontario’s changes, whatever they are to be, won’t come soon. The premier says they’ll be phased in – and probably not before the next election. It’s clear why: parties used to big donations need time to build a database of individual, smaller contributors. The federal Tories became adept at it, long before their rivals mastered the art of coaxing $25 and $100 contributions from ordinary folk.
But it’s cynical stuff to wait until after the next election, because it needn’t be that way. While the government contemplates new rules, the Ontario Liberal party could fix this problem right now.
How? The party could immediately draft policies for the sorts of donations it will accept, the ceiling it plans to put on those donations, and the amount of transparency it will offer Ontarians. Nothing stops the party from saying, right now, that it will no longer hold gold-plated fundraisers, and won’t take corporate or union money.
Political operatives might say it’s impossible; one party can’t do this unless the others do. Perhaps. But Ms. Wynne, if your party decided to be the first to act in an open, responsible way, you’d dispel even the whiff of suspicion that money buys policy or elections. Voters, sick of crass politics, would likely reward you.
We’ll take legislation if we must. But there’s no need to wait. Just show some leadership.