A Richmond News analysis of 2014 municipal election finance reports shows developers and businesses directly linked to the real estate industry accounted for more than one-third of all donations to would-be politicians.
Businesses, such as law firms and investment companies, farmland owners, unions and Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (River Rock Casino and Resort) complete the list of other significant donors. Some political slates accepted large sums from candidates themselves.
Late last year new rules came into effect for provincial and municipal election donations. The BC NDP government put a cap of $1,200 per year on individual donations and banned corporate and union donations. Nevertheless, Richmond politicians have had three full years to fundraise under the old rules, leading up to the Oct. 20 election. Donations for this election needn’t be reported until months after the election.
Including donations from businesses and individuals with a direct link to real estate and development, that the News is aware of, the sector accounted for just over $365,000 of the $971,120 spent on the 2014 election by all candidates. While many law and investment firms linked to real estate services made significant donations, the News did not include them if they had diversified service portfolios.
The Richmond Community Coalition led the way in donations and spending ($311,357 total). It raised $138,900 (45 per cent) from the development industry. However the single largest donation came from ALW Investments Group Ltd. The company appears to have no online presence and was incorporated just months ahead of the election, in August, 2014, by sole director Wong Man Wa, according to B.C. Corporate Registries.
Rivaling ALW Investments was developer and real estate agent Raman Kooner, who, via several of his companies and individual donations, donated $18,000 to Richmond First.
Richmond First accepted $215,529 in donations, $111,500 (54 per cent) of which originated from real estate and development, including candidate donations from developer Coun. Derek Dang and Coun. Linda McPhail, whose family business is Farrell Estates Ltd.
Other prominent donors included large farming operations, which accounted for $35,320 of donations to Richmond First, the Coalition and Mayor Malcolm Brodie combined. Meanwhile, unions contributed $34,225 total in Richmond (nearly all from CUPE or Richmond Firefighters Association) and River Rock owners Great Canadian donated $19,025 across the city.
After Richmond First and the Coalition, Brodie was the third single-largest fundraiser. His more diverse donation portfolio saw 35 per cent of donations come from development and real estate.
Candidate donations were $17,360 for the Coalition and $19,725 for Richmond First.
The candidate who spent the most of their own money last election has now joined Richmond First as a council candidate for this year’s ballot. Developer Sunny Ho helped form the Reform Richmond slate last election and spent $20,000 from his company Westminster Development Ltd. He also spent $87,358 from of his business Kam Do Bakery. Ho garnered 6,926 votes (17th spot).
Meanwhile, RITE Richmond raised $32,566 last election, 83 per cent of which came from their own candidates.
After a failed attempt in 2011, RITE’s Coun. Carol Day was elected with 13,389 votes, after she spent $7,100 of her own money and $2,010 of her company Cat Sign’s money. Her partner candidate Michael Wolfe spent $7,040 but narrowly lost his third straight council bid with 11,765 votes.
Day and Wolfe have added 2014 independent candidate Henry Yao to their 2018 slate. Taking no outside money, Yao spent $17,493 of his own money on his inaugural campaign that garnered 4,412 votes, good for 21st.
Less-funded, but successful campaigns originated from Couns. Harold Steves and Alexa Loo.
Loo’s independent campaign saw most financial support come from unions. Of her $10,915 in donations, $3,600 came from Canadian Union of Public Employees and $1,000 came from International Association of Firefighters Local 1286 (Richmond). Loo accepted modest sums of $500 or less from Polygon Homes, Townline Homes, Great Canadian and Richmond Country Club.
Richmond Citizens’ Association raised $8,371 for Coun. Harold Steves and school trustee candidate Jack Trovato. RCA accepted $4,100 from unions and $1,500 from Progressive Construction Ltd., its largest business donor.