Whose side are they on?

Big money, big media and the coming B.C. election

It turns out B.C. politics may be even more corrupt than we imagined.

So-called “pay-to-play” political fundraising is so widespread it has created a veritable industry for lobbyists and other corporate operatives, according to a new blockbuster investigative report by journalist Kathy Tomlinson in the Globe and Mail.

Tomlinson’s article, published last weekend, found examples of lobbyists making personal donations to the governing BC Liberals and then getting reimbursed by corporate clients. Some of the shady tactics may even contravene the province’s weak regulations on political financing.

Regardless of the legality, the Globe’s exposé reinforces the growing impression that B.C. is the Wild West of political fundraising (that was the analogy used by none other than the New York Times) and influence peddling by the rich and the business elite.

The blatantness of big money’s hold over B.C.’s politics has even some of the normally middle-of-the-road and right-leaning media figures howling with outrage.

Gary Mason, a senior Globe and Mail columnist covering B.C., recently tweeted, “If BC Libs refuse to change fundraising rules, and get voted in again, then people in this province have made a statement about this matter.”

Mason is sort of implying that the coming provincial election can be seen as a quasi-plebiscite on money in politics. If that’s true or even close to true, it also puts a heavy burden on the corporate-owned newspapers, radio and TV outlets in this province, who have in the past uniformly and reliably supported the BC Liberals.

BC NDP leader John Horgan | Photo courtesy of BCNDP

This includes Mason’s employer, the Globe and Mail, whose editorial board supported Christy Clark and the Liberals in 2013, arguing that Adrian Dix and the NDP were too “risky.” In fact, in every B.C. election the corporate press comes out late in the campaign with explicit endorsements of the Liberals (and before them, the Socreds) and fearmongering about the NDP. It’s always been this way in our province, back to days when the newspapers used to echo establishment politicians in warning about the (sadly most often non-existent) “socialist hordes at the gates.”

Speaking of fearmongering, with still two months until Election Day we’re already well into attack ad season. The attacks against NDP leader John Horgan, whose sponsors seem to have taken out near-saturation ad buys on local radio, seek to frame the would-be premier as “Say Anything John,” suggesting he says different things depending on the audience. The ads are designed to drive a wedge between traditional groups of voters who lean left, implying for example that Horgan is courting both labour unions and environmentalists but isn’t truly committed to either.

Now admittedly, I lean way left, but this attack on Horgan strikes me as pretty weak. It’s no secret there’s tension and contradictions in the NDP’s voting coalition, but an attempt to please the labour movement and those whose primary concern is the future livability of the planet seems like a noble endeavour (especially as opposed to a singular effort to just please whoever brings the most cash to a fundraiser.) The real challenge for the NDP is to develop and articulate a politics that shows that the interests of working people and the cause of saving an inhabitable planet are inseparable and interdependent. The future, at least if our species is going to have much of one, belongs to green democratic socialism.

If we’re going to get beyond our current political malaise, climate catastrophe, and gaping inequality, an essential starting point is to remove the corrosive effects of big money on our democratic processes. If this issue is going to be central to the election, then the esteemed editors of the Globe and Mail have a choice to make. When it comes to making a statement on the matter of money in politics, whose side are they on?

Now, as I’ve noted before, the big print media doesn’t wield the kind of prestige and authority it once did. But the corporate media still has the power to largely set the parameters of debate leading up to the May 9 election.

The Globe editors would be doing the public, not to mention their own hard working and intrepid journalists like Tomlinson, a disservice by once again cranking out an endorsement of the BC Liberals.