RCMP investigating possible B.C. political fundraising violations

Investigation comes a month before the start of a provincial election campaign

VICTORIA – The RCMP is investigating possible violations of British Columbia’s Election Act related to indirect political fundraising contributions and other unspecified contraventions.

The investigation comes a month before the start of a provincial election campaign where party financing and donation rules are expected to be major issues.

Chief electoral officer Keith Archer said Friday his agency referred a review it began earlier in the week to the RCMP to “ensure that there is no perception that Elections BC’s ability to administer the (May 9) general election in a fair, neutral and impartial manner is in any way compromised.”

“The potential scope and timing of this matter make the RCMP the most appropriate agency to continue this investigation,” he said in a statement.

In announcing its review on Monday, Elections BC cited sections 186 and 190 of the act that outline restrictions on political contributions and requirements to record information about each contributor. Penalties for violating the financing provisions are a fine of not more than $10,000, imprisonment for a term of not longer than one year, or both.

The RCMP said in an email it “will take the time necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Emile Scheffel, B.C. Liberal party spokesman, said in a statement the party will co-operate fully with the RCMP.

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Rich Coleman, deputy premier and Liberal co-campaign chairman, said earlier this week the party is transparent with its fundraising and has done nothing wrong. He said when the party receives money it believes it comes from the person or company named on the payment.

The Liberals are expected to introduce legislation on Monday that affects party donations.

The Liberals recently reported they raised $12.4 million in donations last year. The Opposition New Democrats, who have yet to report their finances for 2016, received $3 million in political donations in 2015.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he welcomed the RCMP investigation.

“On Monday, (Premier) Christy Clark has a choice,” he said in a statement. “She can put a stop to this once and for all by getting big money out of politics or she can again choose her backroom corporate donors over British Columbians.”

The NDP has introduced six private member’s bills calling for bans on union and corporate donations to political parties, but the bills were not supported by the Liberals.

Green party Leader Andrew Weaver, who called on the RCMP earlier this week to investigate the fundraising issue, said the Greens banned accepting union and corporate donations last year.

“This investigation underscores the dire need for wholesale electoral finance reform in British Columbia,” he said in a statement.

Vicki Huntington, an Independent member of the legislature, has introduced a private member’s bill that caps annual political donations at $1,500.

The Liberals have been under fire for the past year over exclusive fundraising events where donors pay sums of up to $20,000 to attend dinners with Clark or her ministers.

In January, Clark said she would no longer accept a $50,000-a-year stipend from the Liberal party because it had become a distraction.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly made reference to a specific political party being the subject of the review.