06 October 2010

Buying democracy - in Alberta and the U.S.A.

We really do deceive ourselves when we think we live in a democracy. At least we do in Alberta, rather like our cousins to the south.

Alberta has the least restrictions on electoral spending of any province in the country. The result is something resembling a plutocracy more than a democracy. In 2009, corporations contributed almost as much to the Progressive Conservatives as the other parties combined raised from all contributions. Donors contributed $2,337,252 to the Conservatives, over 60 per cent from corporations. The Liberals came second with a mere $666,983 in contributions, 17 per cent from corporations.

The major corporate benefactor of the Conservatives was the development industry, followed by energy and finance. The energy industry alone donated more than ten times as much to the Conservatives as it did to the Liberals.

That's about the same ratio of money pouring into Republican and Democratic coffers in the upcoming elections in the U.S. With corporate spending unleashed by Supreme Court rulings, the Republicans are expected to be receiving up to ten times as much in campaign donations as the Democrats by election day. The Court gutted regulations designed to protect American democracy with rulings that banned restrictions on contributions from corporations, other special interests and billionaires, while allowing them to contribute anonymously. The result is massive slush funds called Super PACs (political action committees) dedicated to smearing Democratic candidates with attack ads.

Saddled with a Supreme Court that seems incapable of distinguishing money from speech, the Americans face a considerable challenge in restoring democracy to their nation. Alberta has no such excuse. Our Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on corporate election spending are quite within the Charter, and the federal government and two provinces have instituted strict regulations accordingly. If we want more democracy and less plutocracy in Alberta, i.e. less buying of elections, we need to take note.

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