Cha-ching!: Almost $800,000 donated to political parties in 2010

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Confederation Building - Telegram File Photo

Timing made Bell Aliant this province's top political contributor in 2010.

The communications giant donated a total of $21,450 to parties in Newfoundland and Labrador last year - $16,000 to the PCs and $5,450 to the Liberals.

But that amount was elevated by where fundraising events fell on the calendar and when bills were paid, explained Mark Duggan, Bell Aliant's corporate affairs manager.

"We actually paid a 2009 invoice in 2010," he said.

Bell Aliant's contributions were among the $779,968 donated to provincial political parties last year, according to a list released this fall by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

(TO SEE A PDF OF ALL POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS CLICK HERE)

The governing Tories received far more than the Liberals and New Democrats.

PC contributions were $690,165, compared to $59,123 for the NDP and nearly $30,680 for the Liberals.

PC party president John Babb was expectedly partisan when commenting on the Tory lion's share.

The backing, he said, indicates approval of the party's successive premiers, cabinet and caucus, and is the result of hard work by volunteers and staff.

"The healthy support we have nurtured and maintained is a very strong indication that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador believe in what we stand for and what we are doing as a party and government," Babb wrote in an email.

Donations from big businesses like Bell Aliant were common among the contributions, but donations from architects, banks, consultants, contractors and fish processors were significant, too.

For the most part, there were few surprises among the business donations because the firms were based in the province or have a considerable presence here.

However, there were a few head-scratchers, like three contributions to the Tories totalling $8,500 from Shoppers Drug Mart of North York, Ont.

That seemed like a lot of Optimum card points, prompting The Telegram to ask the national company about its donation.

"Shoppers Drug Mart, from time to time, provides support to political parties of all types across the country as an active participant in the political and public policy environment in Canada," Tammy Smitham, director of communications and corporate affairs, stated in an email.

"This support is primarily focused towards special event participation, including political fund-raising dinners and golf tournaments in jurisdictions across the country."

Aiding the political process was a familiar refrain among donors questioned, including some of the other contributors that piqued our attention, like the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association. It gave $2,000 to the PCs.

"The RNC Association supports the political process," president Tim Buckle said.

"Fundraising by political parties is an aspect of politics, and we have supported both (the Tories and the Liberals)."

Buckle explained the association's most common type of donation is sponsoring a team in a party's golf tournament, but he noted the organization also backs the campaigns of current or former RNC officers, like Topsail MHA Paul Davis.

Alex Marland, an assistant professor of political science at Memorial University, said there are always worries about the role of donations in politics, because people generally don't give money without a reason.

He said the contributions are vital, since political campaigns can't operate without cash.

"So the money has to come from somewhere and it's either going to come from businesses and private donors and unions, or it's going to come from the public purse," he said.

Marland said he wonders if the province's legislation on political donations will "catch up to what's happening at the federal level."

National parties, he explained, can no longer accept money from businesses and unions, and significant restrictions have been placed on individual gifts.

He thinks the federal legislation is working well, but notes the rules are causing problems for opposition parties. The governing Conservatives, he continued, are doing well because of a large database of grassroot supporters dating back to their Reform party roots.

Marland expects parties in this province would be in a lot of trouble if Ottawa's rules were adopted here. He figures they'd need time to develop a database of donors.

Still, he suggests the federal rules are worth a look.

"A lot of legislation in a smaller provinces like Newfoundland often needs to look to federal legislation for ideas," Marland said.

"They have two chambers, we have one. A lot of scrutiny happens, a lot of ideas, a lot more resources ... For smaller places, sometimes good ideas can come out of Ottawa."

The Telegram spoke to a number of people involved in elections legislation in the province, and it appears the federal rules governing political contributions haven't been considered and no change is in sight.

This year's political contributions will likely be higher than 2010's because of the provincial election. The final tally won't be released until late summer or early fall, after parties submit their donors and the numbers are scrutinized by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

Meanwhile, a word of caution for those who go online and browse the list of 2010 contributors: the names listed aren't always who they seem to be.

A $400 donation to the Tories from Ed Ring had The Telegram momentarily wondering if the province's information and privacy commissioner had breached his non-partisan office.

That wasn't the case.

"My son, his name is Edward Ring as well," the commissioner said.

"He's a Crown attorney now, but he was practising law with a private firm and attended the golf (tournament) with three or four of his friends.

"I do understand the reason for your call and it would have been a significant contravention of my neutrality if, in fact, I would ever do that."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: @bartlett_steve

 

Organizations: Bell Aliant, Shoppers Drug Mart, NDP Tory Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association RNC Association Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, North York, Canada Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Ian Lambert
    December 18, 2011 - 19:05

    The time has come for Newfoundland and Labrador to ban donations from non residents and from companies and unions. The ban needs to include municipal politicians as well.

  • Christine
    December 18, 2011 - 11:42

    Scandalous!! Starving, homeless people and food banks having to beg to fill their shelves. Way to go Bell Aliant!!! Way to go Ms. Dunderdale. I am going to go pick up my prescription now at Shoppers!! My last one by the way!

  • SR
    December 17, 2011 - 22:03

    When I see companies pay money like this, First I think they are charging too much for their product. Their prices should cover costs of running a business like purchases, rent, salaries etc. Revenue should not be used to pay political contributions. A look at the list also shows a few companies that do govt work ...conflict of interest? To say the backing shows approval of the party tells me he thinks we are stupid. Some of the backing is to support their party but I suspect construction companies give money expecting something in return, especially when it's thousands of dollars.

    • Eli
      December 18, 2011 - 14:02

      SR..we keep sending the same rogues back, so yes, some people are stupid! Too many of 'em.

  • Randy
    December 17, 2011 - 17:49

    Companies from the mainland should not be calling the shots here. Dunderdale would get rid of that if she has any sense.

  • David
    December 17, 2011 - 12:47

    Hard-hitting investigative journalism! This story is presented in the Telegram as a totally innocous, just-thought-someone-might-be-interested story...even interesting leads are dropped after one sentence. Politics is so sleazy and dirty in Newfoundland that it no amount of corruption or backdoor deals even registers anymore. The term "fridge magnets" is just an inside joke. We get exaxtrly what we deserve....we're the fall guy in this stage act, and all we do is wipe the shmutz off our faces and go back out for the next skit.

  • Nancy
    December 17, 2011 - 10:57

    When you're laying off your employees left right and center, I guess you can be the top contributor. This actually makes me sick.

    • Edmund
      December 17, 2011 - 13:42

      The top contributor certainly has their priorities in line. I am with the first post on this article- they continue to layoff, layoff and layoff while spending big bucks on trash such as politics, way to go!

  • Chantal
    December 17, 2011 - 10:28

    Democracy is the most beautiful thing money can buy.

  • well
    December 17, 2011 - 08:58

    amazing , meanwhile people have to pick between food or their meds

  • Just Wondering
    December 17, 2011 - 07:51

    Interesting how people in Aliants corporate government relations and private law practices end up finding work in the Premier's Office and Dept. Of Justice. This story could have looked deeper. Oh, wait, the story was about money!

  • Eli
    December 17, 2011 - 07:41

    There's your reason in spades why people are scared sh*tless to take sides publicly on questionable issues. They're basically all on the government payroll in exchange for their contributions.