Canadian Alliance asks leadership candidates to route donations through party, but this isn't full disclosure As the Canadian Alliance prepares for its upcoming leadership vote, we can expect to see all the candidates claim to speak for the party's grassroots, and there will be frequent calls for the party to promote the principles of democratic accountability. But will the leadership race itself be democratic? Specifically, will party members and the Canadian public have the right to know who is bankrolling each of the leadership candidates? For an effective leadership campaign, it costs at least $1-million just to throw one's hat into the ring. With this hurdle, it is no surprise that high-end donors wield tremendous power over who gets to even enter the race. In the 2000 leadership race, candidates refused to disclose their donors' names and the amounts given. This time around, the Alliance will ask leadership candidates to route donations through the party, so that the amounts will be reported with the annual party filings. While this approach has the appearance of disclosure, there are three reasons why it is not a meaningful improvement. First, the whole point of disclosure is to know which moneyed interests are behind each candidate. Under the Alliance's model, there will be no way of knowing which donors supported which candidates, since the donations will be lumped together with the party donations. Second, the public will not get to see the party donations list until next July, 16 months after the leadership vote. By that time, the leadership race will be a distant memory (although I'm reminded that the last Alliance leadership vote wasn't much more than a year and a half ago). Third, it is well-known in fundraising circles that party bagmen give donors the option: they can route donations through the party to get a tax receipt, or if the donor doesn't want his or her name disclosed, they can simply contribute directly to the candidate or a leadership committee. While this would technically be against party rules, the party has no interest in investigating and bringing to light any of its own fundraising irregularities. The real problem lies with Canada's election law, which makes disclosure of political donations essentially optional. Party leadership races is only one of the most obvious loopholes. And without any legal requirements to disclose donations to leadership candidates, the Alliance says it won't bother going much further than the law in the interests of transparency. During the 2000 leadership campaign, Frank Klees, upon withdrawing from the race, alleged that a rival leadership camp offered him a huge sum of money if he would back their candidate on a second ballot. Rather than expressing shock at the allegation, a senior advisor to Stockwell Day merely dismissed it as a frequent occurrence in leadership races. He was even indignant that Klees would air the party's dirty laundry in such a way, stating that the appropriate thing to do when this happens is simply to say "no thanks." Given this attitude, and the unlikelihood that such cash-for-votes schemes would ever become public, it is reasonable to expect that these tactics are indeed commonplace and are likely to reoccur in this year's race. Whoever wins the Alliance leadership race will become one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Shouldn't the transparency standard that applies to a backbench MP during an election apply to those who wish to be Leader of the Opposition? Some suggest that parties are private entities, and donors should have the right to privacy when they wish to hide their donations. This ignores the very public role that parties play as the primary actors in a Parliamentary democracy. Parties make law, and those who are governed by the law have a right to know which private special interests are bankrolling the political process, and to what extent. The privacy argument is especially repugnant when one considers the amount of public subsidies that parties enjoy, in the form of access to free broadcast time on the public's airwaves, tax credits for donors, and expense reimbursements for candidates and parties. These subsidies account for between one-third and two-thirds of total party revenues. If taxpayers are footing the bill for party budgets, we have all the more right to require a basic level of disclosure. Alliance candidates talk a good line on government accountability. Too bad they don't practice what they preach. Aaron Freeman is a columnist with The Hill Times and a founding director of Democracy Watch. The opinions expressed are his own.