Until the Chretien government passed legislation, Canadian political parties depended on funding from corporations and unions, plus whatever they could scrounge from their members. Under the legislation, the mainstream parties agreed to forego all money from business and unions, and donations from individuals would earn a tax credit.
To replace the revenue lost from business and the unions, the Government of Canada pays each mainstream party $1.95 each year for each vote that they won in the previous election. It is difficult for the parties to get around these rules and limits, although there are ways. Such organisations as the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation are expert as media manipulation, and provide “advertising services” of incalculable value to the Harper government.
For our neighbours to the south, the situation is much different, which is why election times are so exceptionally profitable for the media, especially TV. Big Business and Big Labour (among others) can give as much as they want to the Republican and Democratic Parties, candidates and special interest groups. The limits set only by their accountants.
This situation will probably never change. Companies such as Exxon/Mobile, BP, the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, as well as unions such as the Teamsters, have a constitutional right (upheld by the Supreme Court) to give whatever they want to whomever they want. It’s called “Freedom of Speech.”
Anyone watching television during the final days of the American mid-term elections can be forgiven for thinking there are three parties – the Democrats, the Republicans, and, new to the scene, the so-called Tea Party.
The Tea Party has only been around for a couple of years, but is drawing attention far beyond its size. Named after the original Boston Tea Party, which was a protest against taxation without representation and led to the American Revolution, the current incarnation also protests taxation and big government.
According to their website, the Tea Party movement is: “A community committed to standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to protect our country and the Constitution upon which we were founded!” The website also provides links to about 2,500 individual Tea Party groups across the country.
The Tea Party claims to be a loosely knit federation of local groups, rather than a political party as such. Policy comes from below, from the membership. However, given its effectiveness in dictating the Republican Party platform, strategy, and even its candidates, it is difficult to imagine that there is no overall leadership.
Palin, speaking to the convention, avoided any sort of commitment towards leading the Tea Party, but did state that the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement should be compatible.
“I will live, I will die for the people of America,” she said. “This party that we call the Tea Party, this movement, as I say, is the future of politics in America.”
With enough money, one can achieve almost anything, so what happens when one “follows the money” regarding the Tea Party? Looking at what the Tea Party is trying to accomplish immediately puts the “money trail” in the spotlight.
The most threatening issues for the big oil and coal companies is the possibility of man-made climate change, the result of too much CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, and peak oil. If these two issues can be made to disappear, the problems are solved, and it’s back to business and profits as usual.
Coal mining is a major economic factor in Ohio, the third largest greenhouse gas producer in the US. The possibilities of mandatory cuts to emissions, and the whole concept of clean energy, are seen as a major threat by those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry.
It is, understandably, easy to get them riled-up. The New York Times reports of a retired Ohio teacher who considers that “[the Earth] is no older than about 6,000 years…. The Lord, when he [created fossil fuels], did not leave us wanting.”
With enough money, and the right spin, it’s easy to cater to and profit from such prejudices. The Guardian, one of Europe’s most authoritative news sources, reports that some of Europe’s major greenhouse gas emitters, including Bayer, BASF and BP Oil, have collectively donated over $240,000 to Senators blocking action on global warming. This is even more than the Koch Brothers have donated to various Senators.
The only Americans richer than David and Charles Koch are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and the Koch brothers are working hard to ensure that the Tea Party has enough money to pursue their own neoconservative agenda. Through a buffer foundation, Americans for Prosperity, they are major funders for the Tea Party. The New Yorker recently published a significant piece of investigative journalism regarding the Koch Brothers.
“Americans for Prosperity has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.
“The Kochs give money to ‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, turning their private agenda into a mass movement, in an effort to ‘to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.’
“Another former Koch adviser said, ‘They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them… as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.’ Rob Stein, a Democratic political strategist who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, said that the Kochs are ‘at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.’”
The Tea Party refers to itself as a grassroots organisation, but the question is how can a true grassroots movement, unknown before 2009, have such an overwhelming impact on the Republican Party and American politics in general?
According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, what the Tea Party wants is “…a continuation of the failed economic policies of President George Bush which got us in the situation we are in now. What we want is a new direction…. This [tea party] initiative is funded by the high end — we call it astroturf, it’s not really a grassroots movement. It’s astroturf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class.”
Could Canada ever end up with a maple flavoured Tea Party? The foundation already exists with such institutions as the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, both of which promote a facile, extreme right wing agenda.
In 2005, the BC Teachers’ Federation published a telling story about the Fraser Institute, listing its funding from right wing foundations, and alluding to much of its corporate funding.
According to the Teachers’ Federation, the Institute acknowledges that 52% of its funding comes from foundations, 38% from organizations, and the remainder from individuals. Canadian law does not require tax-exempt institutions to list their sources. However, the so-called charitable foundations must list their beneficiaries.
In 2002 four right wing foundations provided the Institute with almost $3.5m. Foremost was the Donner Canadian Foundation, with assets of $200 million, which gives out two million a year to right-wing causes.
“The Calgary-based Max Bell Foundation provided large sums for school-choice projects, designed to destabilize public education, including $500,000 to the Fraser Institute and similar amounts for charter schools in Alberta. Max Bell also provides money for an intern to marshal the evidence in favour of for-profit healthcare.
“The Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, (arms dealers), and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, (cookies) support so-called school choice. Galen Weston is Canada’s second wealthiest person.”
Corporate sponsors are harder to find, but one Fraser Institute Trustee is Pfizer, the world’s largest multinational drug company.
“The Fraser Institute has a pharmaceutical-policy division, which attacks internet pharmacies that provide cheaper drugs for Americans, disparages critics of drug-company policies regarding distribution of HIV/AIDs drugs in Africa, attacks generic drugs, and opposes the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs, all of benefit to Pfizer.
“There are also energy and investment companies. Cutting corporate and income taxes has long been a Fraser mainstay, as well as supporting climate-change sceptics for nearly a decade.”
Whether or not Stephen Harper could create his own maple flavoured Tea Party to lobby for his own agenda is debatable. One major question is whether Canadians are as gullible as the average American Tea Party member. Many Tea Partiers seem to be mere intellectual child soldiers, cannon fodder in the fight for who controls America.
The other major obstacle is Canada’s election funding legislation, which specifically forbids business and labour from donating to the political parties. It would be wise, however, not to forget that Harper almost lost a non-confidence vote when he tried to sneak a provision to end the $1.95 annual stipend for all the parties.
The $24m that this costs the taxpayer seems a worthy target for the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation.
Will Canada one day see American style elections? Maybe we should hold our breath.