March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics

The following is my letter to the T/C Editor regarding campaign spending in politics and municipal elections:

RE: March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics
Your editorial on campaign spending in politics and municipal elections is timely and I couldn't agree more. I made one of the 131 submissions last year to the provincial Elections Reform Committee, calling for municipal campaign spending/donation limits and greater public oversight by Elections BC. Good people to whom I refer as "grass roots candidates" who simply want to serve their community in local government, may be discouraged to get involved if running an expensive campaign is the key measure of success at the polls. Access to our political system should be open to everyone.

The level of campaign funding should not determine the level of election support. But some municipal election campaigns in recent years have been more about expensive marketing strategies than about the candidate's real skills, ability and genuine desire to serve. And the higher the political stakes, the greater the amount of money available to candidates it seems, given that the primary role of local governments is making decisions about land use. And with land values on the South Island some of the highest in the country, there is often keen interest in the outcome of local elections by those who may have the most to gain.

But one of the greatest weapons against the influence of big money in politics is a well informed voter. It is vitally important for voters to prepare for the next election by attending local Council meetings, talking or meeting with local candidates one-on-one or in group settings, joining or starting up a community association; whatever it takes to critically assess candidates and their campaigns beyond big signs and glossy brochures. Voters need to know details about a candidate's background, experience and commitment to public service and to the community. Local media also have an important role to play in providing the public with responsible, objective and well researched story material on local issues and local candidates.

Apart from tightening up campaign funding rules and bringing greater public scrutiny to the election process through legislation, the next best thing to safeguarding our democratic system is an aware and informed voting public because it's true, information is power.