Basran

Colin Basran is shown in May 2018 formally announcing his bid for re-election as Kelowna mayor. But he'd already raised about $20,000 in 2017, donations that he did not report as required to Elections B.C.

The year before he won re-election as Kelowna's mayor for a second term, Colin Basran collected about $20,000 in political donations.

But the money was never reported as required to Elections BC - until now.

Basran intends to correct what he says was a mistake made more than two years ago and submit paperwork that shows who gave him donations in 2017, and how the money was spent.

"It turns out that, yes, I do need to do that, and we're prepared to do that. It was an oversight on our part," Basran said this week in an interview.

"I'm not trying to hide anything," Basran said. "We thought we didn't need to make that declaration, but we do. So we're going to be doing that ASAP."

In his filings with Elections BC, Basran indicated that, in 2018, he raised and spent $76,585 on his re-election campaign. That was just $200 below the maximum allowable under a provincially-set, population-based limit for anyone running that year to become Kelowna's mayor.

The approximately $20,000 he raised in 2017, Basran said, went mainly to pay for social media messaging outlining what he believed were his accomplishments as mayor and his vision for Kelowna going forward. None of that money was used directly on his 2018 campaign, Basran said.

In 2016 and 2017, Basran held campaign-style events at local pubs. "There is much work to be done and I want to be able to keep working with you in the years ahead," Basran wrote in the email invitation. "I am very appreciative of your past support and hope I have earned it again moving forward."

Those who attended the events, one of which was called 'Basran 2018: Get Ready, Set . . . ', were asked to pledge their financial support for Basran, even though he had not at that point formally declared his intention to run for re-election in 2018.

Attendees received a follow-up email, inviting them to make a donation to 'Colin Basran Campaign'. One such email was received by Les Bellamy, a Kelowna homebuilder, who responded by writing a $3,000 cheque.

In an interview, Bellamy said he was at the time a supporter of Basran, though he has since become highly critical of the mayor.

When Bellamy recently looked through Basran's campaign statements on the Elections BC website, he didn't see any reference to his donation of $3,000, made in October 2017, and he wondered why.

"It seemed strange to me that my donation, and many others that I know were made by people who were at that gathering, didn't show up in Colin's list of contributors," Bellamy said.

Another person in a similar circumstance filed a formal complaint with Elections BC several months ago. In February, a spokesman for Elections BC confirmed receipt of the complaint, but said they could not comment on its specifics.

"We review all complaints we receive and will communicate the outcome of our review to the complainant," Andrew Watson, director of communications for Elections BC, wrote in an email to The Daily Courier in late February.

"Generally speaking, all campaign contributions must be reported in a candidate's campaign financing disclosure statement. This includes contributions made more than a year before an election," Watson wrote at the time. "If it is discovered that a contribution was not reported, or not reported accurately, a candidate's financial agent must submit an amended report within 30 days."

As of Wednesday, the person who filed the complaint with Elections BC several months ago had not heard anything regarding the outcome of its review.

One email sent last fall by Patrick James, Elections BC's compliance officer, to the complainant indicated there are two types of offences under the Local Election Campaign Financing Act - lower penalty offences that carry a fine of not more than $5,000, and high penalty offences with fines of not more than $10,000.

"The primary difference between offence types is based around whether the financial agent knowingly and intentionally filed a false or misleading report," wrote James, who added: "Elections BC generally works to resolve outstanding issues through education and compliance rather than enforcement."

Basran said Tuesday that neither he nor people involved with managing his 2018 campaign finances had been contacted by Elections BC regarding donations collected in 2016 and 2017. He initiated the contact with Elections BC, he said, after being asked earlier in the day by The Daily Courier about the donations.

Basran said questions about the 2016 and 2017 donations are being advanced by his political opponents. He says he wishes they had contacted him directly with their concerns about how the money was recorded and used, rather than making comments on social media and filing complaints with Elections B.C.

In his conversation Tuesday with Elections BC, Basran said he was told that he needs to submit the names of people who donated money to him in 2016 and 2017, along with the amount they provided, and a general description of how the funds were spent.

"We're totally prepared to do that. We accounted for it all, we already have it. That's easy enough for us to do," Basran said.

He added nothing was raised in his conversation with Elections BC that leads him to expect he might be fined for failing to submit the necessary paperwork in a more timely manner: "Nothing of that was spoken of."

Now that he's been made aware his previous filings with Elections BC were incomplete, Basran has 30 days under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act to produce the supplementary report.

"An elected candidate who fails to file a supplementary report within those 30 days could lose their seat and be disqualified from running in the next local election in 2022," Watson wrote Wednesday in an email to The Daily Courier.

Igal Rogalsky, who was Basran's marketing co-ordinator for his 2018 re-election campaign, said Elections BC rules require that money raised outside of a specific campaign period cannot be used for direct election expenses.

"The rules are very specific," Rogalsky said. "You can't use any of the funds, for example, to purchase signs ahead of time or pre-buy things that will be used in the period of the campaign itself."

The 2016 and 2017 donations collected by Basran were used for "general public awareness" of his record as mayor, and the work of city council, through advertising on social media channels, Rogalsky said.

Although Basran acknowledges he should have declared the 2017 contributions with Elections BC, he said there's nothing particularly unusual about a politician raising and spending money on political messaging outside an election year.

"I would say, in terms of the level of sophistication of campaigns in Kelowna, I would say I'm probably the only one who's done it," Basran said. "But this happens in major cities and with party politics right across the country and in North America.

"So this is not something new in politics, per se. But is it something new for Kelowna? Yeah, possibly," he said.

In his two successful mayoral campaigns, in 2014 and 2018, Basran raised more than $150,000 from supporters, far more than any other mayoral candidate in Kelowna history.

"I believe I have raised the bar when it comes to campaigning in civic elections in Kelowna, and that's not something I'll apologize for," he said. "I'm really appreciative of the support that I have in the community, and the fact that so many people have contributed is something I'm really proud of, because they believe in what I'm doing and the vision I have for the community.

"In this particular instance, something was missed, and we're going to make sure that we fix it," he said.