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Democracy Watch launches campaign to end end secret, unlimited donations in politics and make political finance more democratic

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch launched a national letter-writing and petition drive calling for federal, provincial and territorial politicians to pass laws to end secret, unlimited donations and loans to Canadian political parties and politicians to get big money out of Canadians politics, and for other changes to make the political finance system democratic.

“We don’t allow hockey players to give donations to referees, so why is this legal in politics?  Politicians are the referees who decide what is in the public interest, so it makes no sense at all to allow wealthy interests to buy influence with large donations and gifts to candidates and political parties, including secret donations,” said Tyler Sommers Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the nation-wide Money in Politics Coalition.

“The scandals involving a federal Cabinet minister’s questionable donations and campaign spending in the last election, executives and family members from the same company donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to an Alberta political party, and corruption in Quebec have highlighted Canada’s  weak and loophole-filled restrictions on money in politics,” said Sommers,  “So Democracy Watch is launching a national letter-writing and petition drive that makes it easy for people across Canada to send a clear message to key politicians calling for strong laws to end the influence of big money in politics by strictly limiting and disclosing all donations, and increasing enforcement powers and penalties.”

“While the corrupting, democracy-undermining influence of secret money and bribes can unfortunately never be stopped, governments across Canada continue to be negligent by leaving open loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans that wealthy interests can use to buy influence with political candidates, politicians and governments,” said Sommers.

While the Federal Accountability Act made historic changes to Canada’s 33-year-old political fundraising rules, it left open huge loopholes which allow corporations and other organizations to provide unreported “volunteer labour” through giving employees paid time off to participate in nomination races, allow nomination and party leadership candidates to take secret donations and gifts, and allow riding associations and political parties to keep secret trust funds.  These same loopholes are open in all the provinces and territories.

A Liberal Senator recently said that federal politicians are under pressure “all the time” to take “brown paper bags with cash in it.”  Italian police have said that Ontario has a mafia corruption problem in the construction industry even worse than in Quebec.  And because donors don’t have to disclose their employer or affiliations with organizations, the scandals in Quebec, and also situations like this and this, show that it is easy for corporations and other organizations to funnel donations through their employees.

Other than federally and in Manitoba and Quebec, donation limits are much too high, and corporations and unions and other organizations are allowed to donate, and other than at the federal level and in Ontario donation disclosure rules are much too weak (and even those jurisdictions have loopholes in the rules, and donation limits that are still too high).

And across the country, election agencies either lack investigation and auditing powers, or are failing to do regular audits, and penalties are too weak, all of which encourages violations.

Democracy Watch and its nation-wide Money in Politics Coalition, made up of 50 citizen groups with a total membership of 3 million Canadians, will continue pushing until all laws across Canada prevent the undue influence of money in politics, and the key democratic principle of one person, one vote is upheld in our political finance system.

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