Behind the File: Reconstructing #Paytoplay BC Liberals Style

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The recent release of the “real-time” donations to the BC Liberal Party for 2016 on their website in PDF form has created some unique opportunities as the recently released data can be used in an attempt to identify the donors present at specific BC Liberals fundraising events and to attempt to identify the fundraising haul garnered at these events well in advance of when you normally would be able to so (once the full fiscal year filings have been submitted to Elections BC).  As such, the analysis of this data can be attempted well in advance of the upcoming election and I must thank the BC Liberals braintrust for that opportunity.

Examining the names, amounts, and dates of donations and cross-referencing this data with the known big money fundraising events that took place in 2016, one can use the data provided in order to attempt to reconstruct who was at certain fundraising events and how much money was donated at each of these events.   A simple compiled search by date provides one with the amounts donated on that date and identifies the specific people and corporations that more than likely would have been present at any of the specific fundraising events that took place last year.  Of all the possible cash for access events from the past year sponsored by the BC Liberal party that I could have choosen to examine, I choose to focus on the BC Liberals Annual Interior Leaders Golf Invitational Tournament that took place at Predator Ridge Golf Course on September 22, 2016.

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For those that may not be familiar with the event, the Interior Leaders Golf Invitational event is billed as one of the biggest fundraisers for the year for the BC Liberals. The big money price structure for attending the event is presented below.

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As you can see, for a mere $4,000, your foursome would receive a round of golf, dinner, a $400 voucher for accommodation at Predator Ridge and, wait for it, the opportunity to have a BC Liberal MLA be your caddie.  Yes you read that right.  In BC you can literally “pay-to-play” and have a BC Liberal MLA even carry your bags (this is nothing new I must say as this event has been taking place since at least 2014).

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Actual unaltered image from original website (I kid you not).

I chose to focus on this specific date and this particular tournament for two reasons: First, it represents possibly the most egregious and outrageous of the “pay-to-play”/access buying fundraising events sponsored by the BC Liberals in 2016, especially given that the BC Liberals knowingly choose to go ahead once again with the event despite vocal protestations of those wanting to ban the influence of big money in B.C. politics, polling that suggest that 86% of British Columbians want to ban big money from BC politics, and the movement in other jurisdictions to ban these types of big money events.  Secondly, it kind of made sense to focus on that specific event as I had already written an extensive tongue-in-cheek blog post about the event previously.

A few caveats regarding the data presented below and its interpretation:

First, it is possible that the resulting data provided by the “date only” search possibly includes people and corporations who just randomly happened to have donated to the BC Liberal party on September 22, 2016 or had their donation processed on September 22, 2016 and as such, there may be many represented in the table below that were not actually physically at the golf tournament itself.  In some cases, this is entirely possible, while in other cases, I’m pretty sure that those individuals were at the golf tournament given their ties to some of the major sponsors (I’ll come back to this point later on).  Secondly, it should be noted that only daily donation totals are provided in the data set provided by the BC Liberal party.  As such, there are no breakdowns of the amounts donated.  Accordingly, a $10,000 donation on that date could represent a single hole sponsorship or two $5,000 hole sponsorships, donations as a result of successful bids on the accompanying silent auction (side note: are those auction items a taxable benefit that should be declared if the money used to purchase them is tax deductible as a political donation?), etc.  Hard to tell really so I will just try to guess at what the amounts could have been for.  Anyway enough of the caveats and on to the data itself.  Below is a table containing the top 16 (those over $1,000) of the 161 donations reported on September 22, 2016 listed in descending dollar amount order.  The entire list in descending order is presented at the bottom of this post.

A quick review of the data suggests a number of things:

First, despite the perception that corporations are lining up and falling over themselves to ante $50,000 up to be a top sponsor at these types of events, this does not appear to be the case as it does not appear that there were any takers for the title sponsor roll despite it being offered.  There were only five exactly $50,000 donations to the party (see below) and all of these took place well (many months) before the golf tournament date so it is unlikely that any of them represent top sponsor donations for the tournament.

50-k-donations

Second, it appears that there could only have been one possible Crystal Sponsorship (from Encana) and only one possible Platinum Sponsorship (from a Patricia Trottier, who appears to be the spouse of former Encana CEO Gwyn Morgan) at the event (assuming that they actually paid for the sponsorship rather than just making a straight up donation of course).  That Calgary-based Oil and Gas giant Encana (and related folk) likely represent the largest singular source of donor money at the event should surprise no one as Encana has been a major contributor to the BC Liberals for years and with no restrictions on out of Province or Out of Country donations, it is all entirely legal and on the up and up in BC Liberals #NotRealWorld.

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Source: Vancouver Observer

From there it is quite difficult to establish with any certainty who paid for what as while the $10,000 donations made by Canadian Forest Products Limited, Chevron Canada Limited, Interfor, London Drugs Limited, McElhanny Consulting Services Limited, Terminal Forest Products, and West Fraser Mills Limited while all noted on that day, could possibily represent putting hole sponsorships (@$10,000), multiple hole sponsorships (@$5,000 a crack), regular foursomes (@4,000), or sign sponsorships (@1,000) or some combination thereof potentially with some cash donations possibly being involved as well.  Or as noted previously entirely random donations on that date (I do have to accept that possibility).

It is interesting to note that the listed $4,000 fee for a foursome (including having an BC Liberals MLA as a caddie no less) does not appear in any of the donations listed on September 22, 2016.  One could assume that either they had no takers for this guilded pay- to-play opportunity (highly, highly unlikely) or that the fee was somehow raised to total $4,500 on the tournament date or that the donors were asked to also donate the room values that went along with the fees (more likely given the $4,500 donations from Imperial Metals Corporation (of Mount Polley fame), Neptune Bulk Terminals, Pretium Resources Limited, and Raymond James Limited) or that it was some how topped up to make it $4,500 rather than $4,000 as listed.  I suppose it is also possible that the foursome fees could have been subsumed within some of the larger donation amounts rather than being for specific holes, etc. or that the $4,000 fees were processed on other dates. Can’t really say for sure.

What immediately struck me when looking at the larger donations listed above on this particular date was what appears to be a significant representation (or over representation if you will) of major forestry industry players who appear to have been possibly present at this particular event.  Was there a concerted, conscious, and coordinated effort by major Forest Industry Players to schmooze and/or lobby the BC Liberals at this specific event on this specific day?  Who knows?  Maybe.  At the very least that is certainly a possibility. Or did they all just randomly donate to the BC Liberals that day? Dunno.

So in total, the BC Liberals took in on September 22, 2016 (whether all at the golf tournament or not) a total of $144,975.99 or a total of less than approximately 1.2% of the entire yearly fundraising total for 2016.  Interestingly, this amount doesn’t even really rate when you plot donations by date (see chart below and the table below that).  In fact, the donations on September 22, 2016 come in a modest 28th out of the total 88 donation days reported.

total-donations-by-date-to-bc-liberals

Still, while ~$144,000 is not a bad haul for a single day, but as can be seen from the chart above and the table below, it certainly does not appear to represent one of their biggest fundraising dates or events of the year unlike what the BC Liberals appear to suggest.  They certainly could quite easily have gotten away bowing to public pressure and cancelling the event without affecting their bottom line in any shape or form but that just wouldn’t be the BC Liberals way would it?

A few other interesting things to note, one of the biggest single fundraising day of the year was February 28, 2016 where a cool $1,648,565.00 was raised.  This likely coincides with general year end tax year related donations, followed by December 31, 2016 which I would again suggest represents the final push for use it or lose it 2016 political tax credits.  (Edit: Bob Mackin in his thebreaker.news site has just written an excellent article suggesting that the spike in donation in late February is related to a private dinner held on February 26 at the Wall Centre which was attended by a number of well-heeled party donors including a number of major players in the real estate industry).

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All this of course just lends further credence that indeed we are living in the “Wild West of Politics” as the recent New York Times written by Dan Levan said, an article that Rich Coleman described as being “laughable”

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describing a topic that noted BC Liberals apologist Don Fast said that no one but “no jobs” lefties cares about.

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Sorry Mr. Coleman (Minister of Natural Gas Development, Minister Responsible for Housing, Deputy Premier, and Minister Responsible for General Chortling) and Mr. Fast.  Having your government called out for corruption and being open to influence peddling is not laughable, especially when the author is demonstrably correct.  As Mr. Levin suggests, this type of pay-to-play access would be illegal in most other jurisdictions within Canada and the United States.  But the BC Liberals disagree.  I guess it is true that those closest to corruption can’t see it.

Well there’s my kick at the can.  Other events could be given the same treatment so I encourage others to take up a different event and see what results you get.

Technical Note: For those interested, here is a link to download a Microsoft Excel sheet which appears to include all of the donations listed in the original PDF published by the BC Liberal Party.  It is in a much easier form to manipulate and search rather than the original PDF distributed by the BC Liberal party.  I do not and can not in any way vouch for the absolute accuracy of the file or the data presented here or above but will say that my by hand search for the donations on September 22, 2016 produced the exact same results as the Excel file linked.  I created the file after stumbling across a comma delineated data set on the net and then manipulating the data a bit as there were commas in the original donor field that made the first stabs at importing the data problematic.  Have at it.

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Donations to the BC Liberal Party Recorded on September 22, 2016

It should be noted that the total amount of donations that I get from the linked Excel file is $12,157,771.52 which is quite a bit less than the ~$12.3m reported in various media accounts and the total of $12,474,088.00 that you get when adding the values presented by the BC Liberals on their website.

2016-values

I don’t know what that exactly means other than there seems to be a discrepancy of ~$316,316.00 with the BC Liberals seemingly over reporting their 2016 contributions by this amount. And why this differs from the media accounts and where they got that ~$12.3 figure originally I don’t know.

Lastly I will leave you with this, a list of the largest single donations to the BC Liberals $10,000 and above in 2016 in descending order.  Have a scan through the list.  These are the big money people and corporations who call the shots in the Province B.C.  Not you or I.

10-k-plus

 

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