Daphne Bramham: Money, politics and the price of influence

Analysis: Money is the lifeblood of politics, making The Top Donors List — not politics books — the campaign’s most valuable document

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In politics, nothing is more important than The List – not the red, blue, orange or green political books, and maybe not even the candidates.

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Money is the engine of politics, because being competitive means raising millions of dollars, even in municipal elections.

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Unless you have candidates and campaigns funded entirely by taxpayers — a system that has its own ugly warts and flaws — it’s one of the necessary evils of democracy.

But what is done behind the scenes to get that money is often at the root of citizens’ cynicism about politicians and about democracy itself. This is especially the case when there seems to be a disconnect between what politicians say and who they rely on for money.

There are essentially two lists of donors, as was evident last week after Stanley Q. Woodvine discovered an abandoned Forward Together spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is the list.

Another longer list of donors released by Kennedy Stewart’s party in July recounts how, over three years, 2,473 people gave an average of $175 each to raise $1.14 million.

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This gave the impression of widespread support even though Stewart himself was the biggest donor.

But one developer I spoke to scoffed at the average donation of $175: “No self-respecting developer would give so little.”

He is right.

The names on the donor list have been alphabetized by first names rather than last names. Sorting by last name shows that the developers and their families donated far more than the average, and generally the maximum amount allowed, which this year is $1,250 per person.

Members of the De Cotiis family (owners of the Onni Group) donated $24,441; the Aquilinis donated $13,723; the Pappajohns (Jameson Development), $10,966; and the Bosa, Bonnis and Rennie families donated nearly $10,000.

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The List tells yet another story about 37 patriarchs and leaders of development corporations. According to the spreadsheet, these “captains” have already delivered $270,842 and are being mined for another $783,500.

If they achieve the goals set for them, they will have delivered more than the party is allowed to spend during the official campaign.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks about the Vancouver plan at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, July 5, 2022.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks about the Vancouver plan at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, July 5, 2022. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

It started on Saturday, triggering spending limits for each candidate. For the Stewart and Forward Together contestants, that’s just under $955,000.

Vancouver mayoral candidates can spend up to $231,767, while the limit for council and park council candidates is $120,491. Forward Together has no nominees for the park board.

If $1 million sounds like a lot of money, it is – when it comes to trying to raise it.

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But it’s not when it comes to spending it when you consider the cost of renting a campaign office, buying advertising, printing signs, building websites and payment for liters of coffee and dozens of donuts to feed the volunteers.

It’s undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Stewart, who successfully ran as an independent in 2018, has spent most of his four years organizing a party. If $1 million for a party doesn’t go far to attract attention in a crowded field of competitors, it’s nearly impossible for unaffiliated candidates to do much within their spending limits.

The limits reflect what was spent 30 years ago when Gordon Price was an adviser to a nonpartisan association from 1986 to 2002. And, as he pointed out, that was when a dollar went further and that there were no fundraising limits.

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Tactics aren’t any different either – though they might not have been called “captains” like they are on the Forward Together spreadsheet.

Then, as now, “captains” like Terry Hui of Concord Pacific are urged to lean on friends, employees, contractors and others to make the maximum individual donation.

These “captains” also continue the tradition of spreading wealth, especially since one of the ironies of this campaign is that most “progressive” parties are more pro-development than “right-wing” ones.

Vancouver mayoral candidates (left to right) Colleen Hardwick, Mark Marissen, Ken Sim and Kennedy Stewart were invited to a debate organized by a coalition of neighborhood groups on Monday, September 15.
Vancouver mayoral candidates (left to right) Colleen Hardwick, Mark Marissen, Ken Sim and Kennedy Stewart were invited to a debate organized by a coalition of neighborhood groups on Monday, September 15. Photo by PNG files

Forward Together promises to approve 220,000 homes. OneCity, which is backing Stewart for mayor, promises five-story apartment buildings even in “exclusive” areas.

So why wouldn’t the developers help get them elected?

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Earlier this month, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) received three checks in an envelope from Concord Pacific. The coalition, which fields candidates for city councils, parks and school boards, refused the money and asked Elections BC to investigate.

It is a position of principle, but it can be costly at the polls.

COPE has held a majority on the council only once, in 2002, led by then-mayor and now senator Larry Campbell, who left the coalition before the next election to form pro-government Vision Vancouver. developers.

Besides the list of major donors, parties have longer lists which are the treasure map for small donations, but especially for votes.

Many parties, including the BC NDP and Forward Together, use software such as Nation Builder to collect personal data on and profile everyone who expresses an interest. This allows them to target specific advertisements and messages.

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Losing these listings or letting them fall into the hands of competitors is a serious problem. Park board candidate Liam Menard learned this Friday when the Green Party withdrew his endorsement for “unauthorized manipulation” and unspecified misuse of data.

For voters and supporters, it may have come as a shock to learn how much Forward Together depends on developer money. And it remains to be seen whether Stewart, a political scientist, has found a winning strategy, and for whom.

It is another irony of municipal elections that while spending limits level candidate registration fees, they have reduced the price of influence to currency.


  1. Stan Woodvine found this list of potential Kennedy Stewart campaign donors near City Hall.

    Daphne Bramham: Vancouver mayor appeals to captains of industry to fund his campaign

  2. COPE council candidates (left to right) Nancy Trigueros, Breen Ouellette, Jean Swanson and Tanya Webking hold checks received by the party in an envelope bearing the Concord Pacific logo, at their campaign office in Vancouver.

    Dan Fumano: Elections BC asked to investigate ‘suspicious’ donations

  3. In this file illustration photo taken on April 07, 2021, a smartphone screen displays the Facebook logo against a Facebook website background in Arlington, Virginia.

    Dan Fumano: Has American-style politics arrived in Vancouver?

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