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Press Release: VoteToronto study reveals extensive corporate influence at Toronto City Hall

Why corporate campaign donations have a pervasive influence on decision-making at City Hall

October 29, 2003, Toronto — If you want to know why the current City Council has been called the worst in living memory, follow the money.

VoteToronto, a volunteer citizens group, has found that corporations have been pervasively influencing municipal decisions by dominating campaign funding for most City Councillors. According to Vote Toronto, two thirds of campaign funding for winning Councillors is coming from business while only one third is coming from Toronto citizens.

The trend has reached a high point during the regime of outgoing Mayor Mel Lastman, whose council has been investigated for backroom dealings in the Union Station lease, and the scandal-ridden MFP computer leasing deal. In the last election, Mayor Lastman received seventy-seven percent of his donations from corporations and twenty three percent from individual citizens.

“The emerging trend towards a high percentage of corporate donations means City Hall is less accountable to the taxpayer than it should be,” says Susan Swan, chair of VoteToronto. “If Councillors are able to raise most of their campaign funds from business, why worry about what the taxpayer wants? The constituency they need to please is corporations. This tendency is a fundamental violation of democracy.”

One example of heavy corporate funding is Mike Feldman. In his 2000 campaign corporations gave 89 percent of his campaign funding while citizens amounted to 11 percent. Is it any surprise that Feldman voted consistently for business interests in favour of expansion of Island Airport, and for the contentious 100-year lease of Union Station?

VoteToronto, which is launching its website today, has conducted a detailed analysis of $4.3 million in donations in the 2000 City election to 101 candidates in 45 races. The website shows the voting record of all incumbent Councillors on hot button issues such as the Island Airport as well as reports the stands by all candidates in the current civic election.

The VoteToronto study reinforces the calls by many Torontonians that City Hall is controlled by backroom interests and lobbyists, and does not reflect the best interests of the people and communities in Toronto.

The study revealed that:

  • Corporate donations to winning candidates exceed individual donations by a factor of 2/3 to 1/3: Out of $3.4 million that was collectively donated to all winning candidates in the 2000 election, $2,110,040 was donated by businesses, compared to $886,912 was donated by individuals.
  • Some candidates receive so many business donations that they do not need any community support in their campaigns: Mario Silva received $95,230 in donations from business sources, and just $3,930 from community members – a ratio of 96% to 4%. Because the campaign spending cap set by the city was $17,192, Silva raised more than 5 times what he was allowed to spend on his campaign from business sources alone.
  • Certain businesses have concentrated levels of influence throughout the city, by making high donations to large numbers of candidates:

    - Greenwin property developers and affiliated companies made 72 donations to 15 candidates, totalling $40,950

    - Jeffrey Lyons and affiliated donors made 70 donations to 24 candidates, totalling $40,100

    - Tony Dionisio and Universal Workers Union Local 183-affiliated entities made 36 donations to 7 candidates, totalling $32,505

  • Candidates with high business donations tended to vote in support of business interests, as opposed to the community’s long term well-being.

    - The Island Airport vote: councillors who voted for airport expansion and the fixed-link bridge received a median of 86% more business dollars than those who voted against it.

    - The MFP Inquiry: councillors who voted to settle with MFP and not to pursue a judicial inquiry received 76% more donations on the median from business sources than those who voted to investigate.

As these examples show, corporate donations at City Hall have had a significant influence on the outcome of contentious votes. Despite high levels of public opposition to the Island Airport expansion and the backroom dealing in the MFP computer leasing deal, councillors whose campaigns are funded with business dollars often vote on the side of business interests.

Based on these findings, VoteToronto is advocating that citizens educate themselves about their councillors’ financial backers, and reclaim City Hall from the hands of corporate interests on November 10th. VoteToronto has conducted assessments of candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Numerous community-based candidates – both incumbent councillors and new candidates – have been endorsed in both councillor and mayoral races. These candidates have been active on local issues and represent community members, rather than business interests.

The research on campaign donations was based on data gathered from 101 candidate disclosure forms filed with the City Clerk, from all the candidates in the 2000 Toronto election. The primary dataset on contributions to candidates for City of Toronto municipal offices in 2000 was provided free of charge by Robert MacDermid, Associate Professor, Political Science, York University. The significant cost of obtaining the candidate disclosure forms was generously provided by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, York University. Research assistance was provided by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University. Neither York University nor Robert MacDermid are responsible for the analyses and interpretations presented by VoteToronto.

Full details of the examples presented can be found on the VoteToronto website, as well as detail on each councillor’s donation records in the 2000 campaign, voting records on 14 key votes at City Hall, and VoteToronto’s endorsements in the upcoming election. VoteToronto’s new website is located at .

About VoteToronto

VoteToronto is an independent community-based volunteer organization that aims to improve the long-term health of Toronto by making political processes transparent, holding elected politicians accountable, and endorsing high-quality candidates who are dedicated to promoting the community’s best interests. VoteToronto’s contributors are drawn from communities across Toronto, and have been active on other community-based projects such as battles around Union Station, the Front St. extension, improving social services, dealing more effectively with homelessness, amongst others.

The Chair of VoteToronto’s board is Susan Swan, author and a leader in the arts community. The Vice-Chair is Bill Freeman, a leader in the fight against the Island Airport. Other board members include University of Toronto graduate student Jen Chan, and Paul Farrelly, market researcher in business and the arts.

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