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Election donations report

Jun 02, 2009

An information report from the city clerk Kevin Christenson says the vast majority of corporate and union donations in the last city elections went to incumbents. It also suggests the money plays a large role in deciding who gets elected, especially among non-incumbents.

The report responds to a February council request for a response to a letter from the Town of Ajax urging municipalities to lobby the province for the right to ban corporate and union donations. Christenson says little about this except to confirm that the city would have to ask for a change in legislation to impose a ban.

However, the report breaks down the $766,923 received by candidates in the 2006 campaign. Just under eleven percent ($83,472) was in donations of $100 or less whose source doesn’t have to be reported. Of the remaining donations – all over $100 each – 48 percent ($328,513) came from corporations, and only 29 percent ($199,844) was provided by individual donors. Unions gave six percent ($38,912) of the total, and the remaining $116,227 was paid out of the pockets of the various candidates.

Christenson calculates that “76.9 percent of all corporate donations and 62.4 percent of trade union donations went to incumbents.” He offers similar striking figures respecting the gifts to non-incumbents.

“Of the 33 non-incumbent candidates that raised funds from the 2006 municipal election, 5 were elected to council. These 5 ranked 1, 2, 3, 11 and 13 in funds raised [among non-incumbents]. Although representing only 15 percent of the non-incumbent candidates, they accounted for 37.6 percent of the corporate donations and 52.5 percent of the trade union donations to these candidates.”

The domination of corporate and union donations is more striking when it is remembered that five of the 16 members of council, including Mayor Eisenberger, refused to accept those types of gifts. The others were Margaret McCarthy, Bob Bratina, Brian McHattie and Russ Powers.

Of the remaining eleven councillors, nine received 69 to 82 percent of their funds from corporations – [in order from most to least] Maria Pearson, Bernie Morelli, Sam Merulla, Dave Mitchell, Terry Whitehead, Tom Jackson, Chad Collins, Lloyd Ferguson and Brad Clark. Corporations accounted for 40 percent of Rob Pasuta’s donations.

Scott Duvall’s avoided corporate gifts but took 40 percent of his funds from unions. He took three quarters of the $14,637 given by unions to non-incumbents.

LIUNA’s donation of the maximum $750 to each of two losing candidates  – Judi Partridge and Dave Shuttleworth – accounted for an additional 10 percent of the union gifts to non-incumbents.

Christenson gives five arguments for banning corporate and union donations and four against that position. On the ban side he notes that such gifts “can create the perception that these donations influence the political process”.

Other arguments for banning such gifts include the difficulty in determining ownership of many companies, and the opportunity for their owners to make both corporate and individual donations which “could be viewed as contravening” the maximum donation limit of $750.

On the other side of the argument he notes that corporations pay taxes “and should have the opportunity to contribute to those candidates that believe in the same programs and principles as they do.”

He also suggests that individual donations are just as likely to influence decisions as corporate or union gifts, and that banning the latter would reduce “the opportunities for candidates to get their message across” and give an unfair advantage to wealthy candidates.

The City of Toronto has been granted the authority to ban corporate and union donations to municipal candidates, and appears likely to do so before the 2010 elections. It already reimburses individuals for up to 75 percent of their donations in a manner similar to that practiced by the federal and provincial tax departments.

That measure has also been adopted by Ajax and Ottawa and is already available to Hamilton and other municipalities – something the Christenson report doesn’t mention. However, the authority to ban corporate and union donations has so far only been granted by the province to Toronto.

The Christenson report will be presented to the audit and administration committee on Thursday morning [9:30 am at the Sheraton Hotel] – the same meeting that will likely be dominated by presentations and debate about changes to development charges.

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