The TransLink Mayors’ Council reluctantly admitted it has a $6 million publicly funded war chest to convince the public to vote Yes to hike the provincial sales tax, to help fund TransLink’s $7.7 billion expansion wish list.
But how much are the mayors’ friends at the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition spending?
I can tell you exclusively that it budgeted $835,000.
In the Feb. 27 fundraising letter below, coalition co-chair and Unifor B.C. director Gavin McGarrigle urged unions to follow the B.C. Federation of Labour’s $10,000 donation to the Yes campaign. He sought $1,000 to help buy lawn signs and a social media presence, $5,000 for a telephone town hall and $50,000 for ethnic outreach and a direct mail campaign.
“We have no government money and every dollar we raise is being used for direct contact with voters,” McGarrigle claimed in the letter, dated three weeks before voting began on March 16.
We may never know whether that is true, because the provincial cabinet order authorizing the non-binding plebiscite did not include any fundraising limits or public disclosure requirements.
Yes to Better Transit and Transportation is enjoying support from public sector unions, public health authority medical health officers and public bodies like Port Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Economic Commission, Vancouver School Board, University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University. Port vice-president/lobbyist Marko Dekovic, a veteran strategist from Harper Tory, BC Liberal and civic NPA campaigns, is spending some of his Port-paid time on the Yes campaign.
How much of the $835,000 budget has “Yes to Better” actually spent? McGarrigle did not respond to my query, but coalition spokesman Bill Tieleman said: “We have not used lawn signs or direct mail in our campaign nor have we sponsored a telephone town hall. We have reached out for support from all communities in this campaign. The coalition continues to campaign hard for a Yes vote and will do so until the May 29 balloting deadline.”
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation-run No TransLink Tax campaign disclosed on March 11 that it had raised $27,259.30, more than half of which was from the CTF itself. No TransLink Tax claims its budget is $40,000.
The Mayors’ Council and Metro Vancouver municipalities are governed by the Freedom of Information law. They are keeping secrets about how they are spending public money, but they must eventually show contracts, invoices and receipts. Tieleman was noncommittal about whether “Yes to Better” would voluntarily reveal the sources and amounts of its cash and in-kind donations. (Developer David Podmore, chair of Concert Properties, did tell me in March that his company donated $10,000.)
It is worth noting that in 2011, Tieleman and Bill Vander Zalm ran the successful Fight HST tax revolt campaign that defeated the BC Liberals’ Harmonized Sales Tax in a province-wide referendum. During the HST campaign, Tieleman quoted Samuel Johnson (“Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off”) to begin a Tyee commentary in favour of public disclosure and other democratic checks and balances:
Before you vote on the HST, ask why there is no disclosure of spending despite a massive pro-HST campaign, why standard election financing rules were dropped, why there is no requirement for government or corporate advertising to be truthful or even authorized by an official agent.
On a related note, the “Yes to Better” list of supporters includes the International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Canada, which represents the men and women who move goods at Port Metro Vancouver terminals. The Vancouver Sun’s Kim Bolan authored an investigative series called “Crime and the Waterfront” which probed connections between ILWU members and the Hells Angels.
I sought reaction on Bolan’s reporting from McGarrigle and the other three “Yes to Better” co-chairs — Iain Black of the Vancouver Board of Trade, Peter Robinson of the David Suzuki Foundation and Bahareh Jokar of the University of B.C. Alma Mater Society — but none of them responded to my request for comment.
UPDATE (May 27): The No TransLink Tax campaign, led by Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, claimed it raised $39,687.95. It issued its first unaudited report through March 11 ($27,259.30) and another report through May 27 ($12,428.65). CTF said it was responsible for $19,750 of the donations.
I asked the four co-chairs of the Coalition to tell me when or if they would also publish a donors’ list. I am still waiting for comment.
UPDATE (June 13): The Mayors’ Council reported spending $5.8 million directly on its campaign. That does not include the yet-to-be reported spending by City of Vancouver, City of Surrey and other municipalities that used taxpayer funds and seconded staff to the Yes campaign. The Mayors’ Council is giving itself a pat on the back for coming below the $6 million that came from TransLink’s accounts.
Hold the bouquets, because it originally planned to spend $4 million of your money. But prepare the brickbats, because the Mayors’ Council is refusing to release a line-by-line list of the totals paid to each contractor and it is refusing to explain in-detail how the contractors were chosen. One of them was Strategic Communications, aka Stratcom, the data-collecting, number-crunching, robocalling, telephone town-halling Vision Vancouver contractor and donor with ties to the party’s bagman, Joel Solomon. Stratcom was paid well over $1 million in what appears to be classic patronage. A reward for helping Mayor Gregor Robertson win power for another four years.
Meanwhile, the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition claims it raised $261,743 in donations. It doesn’t say how much it actually spent and it is not voluntarily publishing a financial statement. The sum of donations is $573,257 below the budget stated in McGarrigle’s Feb. 27 solicitation letter. That would be a substantial fundraising failure.
Tieleman said the coalition will not release its donors’ list.
If anyone has a copy, I do welcome brown envelopes.
It should be noted that neither the Mayors’ Council nor the coalition are reporting the dollar value of goods and services contributed.
These coalition campaign folks and Vision Vancouver fundraisers loved to publicly bash the BC Liberals for ordering the vote, but you can be absolutely certain that they are privately praising Clark and her cabinet for not setting a legal requirement to disclose their campaign finances.