Unlike the city elections in Toronto where corporate and union contributions to candidates were banned in 2010, in the surrounding GTA, funding from corporations and developers is still a very significant component of most winning candidates’ finances. So it is even more remarkable when GTA candidates voluntarily refuse these contributions and run successfully with financial support from citizen’s alone. Several did this in 2010.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, mayoral runner-up George Smitherman said he has agreed to sit alongside winner Rob Ford at a January fundraiser chaired by Mr. Ralph Lean to wipe out candidates' campaign debts, including Ford's and Sarah Thomson's $100,000 shortfall.
The article discusses whether 2010's first municipal prohibition on electoral funding by businesses and unions changed the way in which Toronto's mayoralty campaign was run, and whether it will be possible to tell via the candidates' fiscal disclosures in April, 2011.
Election watchers have a new reference tool when looking at the results of the 2010 municipal election, the database of GTA election contributions going back to 2000. Candidates in 2010, elected and otherwise, may continue fundraising for their campaigns until December 31st 2010. Each candidate is required to make a declaration by the end of March 2011 at which time the names of those who contributed more than $100 to their campaigns will be disclosed.
Mayor Rob Ford’s election campaign up to the recent filing deadline ended with a record deficit, the biggest ever recorded by any candidate for Mayor in Toronto, or for that matter, almost certainly anywhere in Canada.
His interim financial statement showed his campaign owing $639,527 at the end of December 2010. Just to put that impressive liability into perspective, Mel Lastman ended his 1997 campaign with a small surplus of just over $1,000. In 2000, he raised $364,370 more than he spent. David Miller’s 2003 campaign year end accounts reported spending $159,302 more than it took in revenue. He erased the deficit in the extended fund raising period in 2004 and entered the 2006 campaign with a slight surplus. Miller again ran a deficit in the 2006 election year of $98,517.75 but paid this off in the following months.
Losing candidates for Toronto Mayor have run up large deficits in the past. Jane Pitfield ended her 2006 campaign $150,339 in the red and Barbara Hall was left having to pay $245,000.
Not surprisingly, winning candidates rarely have difficulty paying off campaign deficits. Lobbyists, corporate leaders and many others will be writing cheques to prove their support for the Mayor, and hoping for quicker access to decision-makers. Those who supported the losing candidates are no doubt demonstrating their neutrality by writing cheques for the winner. These things do not go unnoticed by politicians, their staff and partisans.
Unlike provincial and federal levels where campaign debts are assumed by the constituency parties, in municipal politics in Ontario the candidate is responsible for paying overdrafts, loans or suppliers. That means an elected official is open to all sorts of influence that comes with fundraising schemes like auctioning off luncheons with the Mayor.
Like Lastman before him, Ford is a wealthy business owner and may well end up paying part of the deficit himself. Some of the money is surely owed to the Ford family owned company and if the entire debt is not paid off, it will take some untangling to show that the family firm has not exceeded the contribution limit.
A comparison of Rob Ford’s list of contributors disclosed before election day with the list disclosed at the end of March 2011 raises a number of intriguing questions.
Voluntary pre-election day disclosure of contributors by the leading mayoralty candidates in Toronto has become something of a custom over the past three elections. The candidates are not obligated to reveal their contributors, George Smitherman chose not to and was criticized for it, but do so to avoid criticism of having something to hide. The problem is that all voluntary disclosures are unregulated. We have no idea whether some contributors names were held back to avoid awkward questions.
The number of people going to the polls in the 2010 Toronto municipal election jumped dramatically according to the figures recently released by the City of Toronto Elections office. Was it support for Ford or fear of a Ford win that got people to the polls?
The Municipal Elections Act does not have provisions for the kind of joint fundraising event being contemplated nor are candidates required to value the voluntary contributions of fundraising services such as those provided by Mr. Ralph Lean.
Robert MacDermid looks at Rob Ford's pre-election donor disclosure list, and questions what the list can tell us about his supporters and how it might compare to the full disclosure list in the post-campaign environment.