Jun 24, 2020

Do campaign donations influence politics? Sure they do.

This article was initially published in the Edmonton Examiner on August 23, 2018.

There are three ways to influence politics – money, access, and votes – and when you’ve got all three, power tips in your favour.

Most people only have their vote to wield power over their government and in the last election, a whopping 70 per cent of Edmontonians didn’t use it.

Every voter in Edmonton has a right to influence election outcomes, but when people don’t believe their voice counts or they’re too busy just trying to make ends meet, politics isn’t even on their radar.

Our democracy works best when the public shares an equal opportunity for influence. When candidates can watch money roll in from elites and businesses, low voter turnout might not be a problem they care much about.

Better election financing laws mean encouraging candidates to engage with the community and get financial support from the people, rather than big players. In 2018 Alberta Municipal Affairs put out a survey on election financing laws for municipalities, proposing to bring the city in line with existing provincial and federal rules. It was about time.

We need serious spending limits and restrictions on corporate and union donations. Sure, you can go online and sift through donation disclosures but when people don’t even have time to vote, how can we expect them to devote hours to researching city paperwork to keep tabs on their candidates?

The simple fact is someone who works hard just to pay the bills deserves the same political influence as a union or corporation who is shelling out $20,000 or $60,000 for an election.

If we want grassroots politics and more diverse, independent voices on council, we have to level the playing field. People should be able to have faith in the system and feel they matter, regardless of the size of their bank account. If big donors and recipients argue their money doesn’t have any sway anyway, then they shouldn’t be worried about new laws limiting them.

Do campaign donations influence politics? Sure they do.

June 2020 Update: Today the Alberta Government tabled changes to the Local Authorities Election Act, including increasing donation limit caps. I struggle to see how this levels the playing field. Politics should be about how deep your ideas are, not how deep your pockets are.

Contact me with feedback at aaron.paquette@edmonton.ca or 780-496-8138.