PAC Mentality

Vending-Democracy.jpg

I was interested to read Alison’s June 8th column in The Auroran on Campaign Financing to better understand the pending reforms on the Municipal Elections Act and how they would affect the region and particularly the Town of Aurora.

Especially given that Aurora’s current mayor Geoff Dawe demonstrated is the filing of his own 2014 campaign finance statements that he’s more interested in applying transparency to residential garbage . Back in April of last year, I highlighted what appears to be a direct violation of Municipal Elections Act in his filings.

To recap: When one goes to “see attached” for Tables 1 through 4 of Dawe’s expenses they do not correspond to the tables provided. Table 2 requires that Monetary contributions from corporations or unions reflect “full address”, “president or business manager” and “Authorized Representative”. Again the attached spreadsheet provided fails to provide these fields.

It’s obvious from this alone that a discussion on the pending reforms is needed but that’s not what I got when reading Alison’s column.

Instead, we read about her perceived problem: “the inability to raise funds by means other than individual donations will be truly problematic in the larger races – such as for Mayor or Regional Chair.”

I call Bullshit.

Politicians claim to be engaged, some even claim to be the “voice of the people” they are campaigning to represent. If they are so engaged and have gathered the support from the community they wish to represent then raising funds at the source isn’t problematic for them, only those that wish to remain lazy and disengaged from the process.

One only has to look at how Bernie Sanders campaign rewrote the rules of campaign finance and presidential politics with brigades of small donors giving their $27 donations

So as to the recognition that it is “harder to raise that kind of cash individually than it is under the current system”, okay, harder.  Yes. But isn’t someone able to raise the funds this way proving they are representative of individuals and not beholden to corporate, union or special interests?

Drawing a comparison to the Mayoral race in Aurora Alison points out that “The cost of running for Mayor in the city of Toronto is in the millions of dollars”.  true that.  But the bigger reason that Toronto is a perfect case study for this discussion is that they banned corporate and union donations prior to the 2010 elections.

Now with two municipal elections behind them we learn that Toronto’s ban is meaningless because the city actually has no power to deal with donors who break the rules.

It appears from this OttawaCitizen piece that the latest reform will also be ineffective as it doesn’t really ban corporate/union donations, it simply shifts them into  political action committees (PACs).  Here’s a summary:

Before, this sort of thing has been unregulated and doing it might have looked like an attempt to exploit a gap in the rules. Now it’s explicitly allowed.

Jim Watson’s campaign won’t be able to take corporate donations but “Jim Watson Is A Great Mayor And His Opponents Are Scoundrels Inc.” can, and spend the money to support him.

So much for Alison’s fear of seeing more self-financed candidates, instead be prepared to see more of the same, if anything we’ll see more of those delightful door knockers that made the rounds here in Aurora last election.

I think we are doing democracy a huge disservice  to  simply say there is “some evidence” to suggest that corporate and union donations have had an outsized impact on the outcome of many municipal races.

York University Prof Robert MacDermid has been studying it for some time, particularly the impact on the GTA and suburbs, here are a couple quick videos that explain that impact in more depth:

 

It’s one thing to believe that campaign costs shouldn’t be offset by corporate or union donations.  It’s quite another that after reviewing the legislation to believe its effect will “more than likely be largely positive”.

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