Elections BC has fined Cowichan Works $750 for not complying with campaign financing and advertising rules in the municipal elections that were held in October.
Elections BC received complaints in September that Cowichan Works, a community non-profit that states it is focused on raising public discussion of public-policy issues in Cowichan, was conducting election advertising without being registered as a third party with Elections BC as is required.
An enforcement notice from Elections BC that was released on Jan. 24 said Cowichan Works had mailed almost 15,000 post cards in August to residents in the region that indicated that local politicians are out of touch and putting Cowichan in crisis, and that Cowichan needs change and encouraged voters to be part of the change.
On Sept. 7, the day after Elections BC received the complaint, Elections BC contacted Cowichan Works and indicated that the cards are considered to be sponsored election advertising, and that Cowichan Works was required to register as a third-party sponsor to conduct such activities.
The enforcement notice said Cowichan Works acknowledged that it may have misunderstood Elections BC’s third-party advertising rules.
The notice said that in December, more than two months after the provincial election, Cowichan Works registered as a third-party sponsor for the elections at the request of Elections BC.
After an investigation into the matter was concluded, Elections BC’s director of investigations Adam Barnes said that while the post cards did not specify which local politicians were “out of touch”, they were clearly opposed to the existing council members in the region, and they were sponsored in that Cowichan Works paid almost $3,500 to print and distribute the post cards.
“Cowichan Works distributed the cards during the pre-campaign period, and was not a registered third-party advertiser prior to distribution as was required,” Barnes said.
“I find that the ads in question contravened (the rules of Elections BC).”
Barnes said the potential reach of the post cards was significant and could have had a large impact on voters in the Cowichan area.
But he took into consideration the fact that Cowichan Works has not previously been fined for any transgressions by Elections BC, and that Cowichan Works agreed to register as a third-party sponsor during the investigation.
“This is a significant factor as it increases the transparency of funding sources, improves regulatory oversight and helps to achieve the aims of the act,” Barnes said.
“If this had not occurred I would have…recommended the adjudicator consider a penalty of between $1,000 and $3,000.”
Patrick Hrushowy, a director with Cowichan Works, acknowledged the organization’s reading of the Elections BC regulations turned out to be incorrect.
“Once we were informed by Elections BC, we quickly co-operated and moved immediately to comply, which was to retroactively register,” he said.
This was not the first time Cowichan Works had popped up on the radar of Elections BC during last fall’s municipal elections.
On Aug. 5, Elections BC received a complaint that Cowichan Works was conducting election advertising without being registered with Elections BC.
But after a review of that complaint, Elections BC determined that Cowichan Works’ activities at the time did not meet the definition of sponsored election advertising and dismissed it.