Posts Tagged: campaign finance


27
Jun 11

Mammoliti, other councillors face serious audit requests

After making waves with a pretty-damn-serious request for an audit of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign expenses, Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler turned up the dial last week, debuting a new advocacy group — Fair Elections Toronto — and launching eight additional requests for campaign audits against several councillors and defeated council candidates.

Steve Kupferman with Torontoist:

A group calling itself Fair Elections Toronto is asking for audits of four sitting councillors, whom they accuse of having violated campaign finance laws during the 2010 municipal election.

Comprised of about 25 members and led by activist and Toronto Public Library Board vice-chair Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, Fair Elections Toronto alleges that Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), and Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) all improperly classified expenses incurred during their campaigns as being for “fundraising functions,” in amounts ranging from $4,000 to $17,000.

via Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, and Other Councillors Facing Calls for Campaign Audits – Torontoist.

The most serious allegations fall against Mammoliti, who is accused of exceeding spending limits by more than 50%. If, over the course of the audit process, it is determined that the Mammoliti campaigning knowingly overspent — listing non-fundraising expenses as fundraising expenses, which are exempt from the limit — he could very well be removed from office.

Knowingly overspending in an election campaign isn’t just a minor administrative error. It’s tantamount to cheating.

The Star’s Daniel Dale has more on the Mammoliti situation:

“When you file an audited financial statement without a name and a date or a title for each one of the expenses claimed, it really stretches my willingness to believe it was a good-faith error,” Chaleff-Freudenthaler said.

Mammoliti said he had done “everything according to the law.” And he lashed out at Chaleff-Freudenthaler and his colleagues.

“We’ve got no concerns at all,” Mammoliti said, “except the fact that we think this is a bit of a conspiracy going on with a few individuals wanting to get to the right-leaning councillors. That’s not really what this structure was put together for. So we’re looking at actually suing the individuals that are doing this.”

via Mammoliti alleges ‘conspiracy’ over audit requests – thestar.com.

When your first line of defence against an allegation is to claim that there’s a conspiracy against you, you know you’re in deep trouble. (A much better line of defence for Mammoliti would have been to produce details, including a date and location, of the fundraising event in question. But maybe that would just be playing into the conspiracists’ hands.)

Fair Elections Toronto’s biggest challenge through this process will be to convince skeptics that their actions are not politically-motivated. That all the sitting councillors targeted for audit happen to be allied with the mayor is difficult to ignore.

But either way, these allegations are serious regardless of motivation. Municipal elections are tooth-and-nail, grassroots efforts, where every dollar spent and every vote cast matters. Allegations that Councillor James Pasternak overspent by a mere $2,500 may seem trivial, for example, until you consider that he won Ward 10 by only 382 votes, garnering less than 20% of the popular vote. A hundred fewer signs or flyers and that race could have easily gone a different way.

Those claiming that these allegations are politically-motivated also have to contend with the fact that Fair Elections Toronto seems sincerely devoted to the idea of reforming the Municipal Elections Act. The Reform page on their site outlines four changes to the Act that would improve accountability and fairness, and justifies the necessity of the current round of audit requests:

Litigating complaints against candidates who, we allege, broke election laws is only the first step in bringing fair elections to Toronto. Fundamental changes need to be made to the Municipal Elections Act to increase accountability and transparency, eliminate the gray areas that candidates systemically exploit, and better reflect the realities of big city elections. As the City of Toronto’s Auditor General reported following the 2006 election, 29 of 45 councillors broke election laws in one way or another. While we have only filed audit requests on the four councillors we believe gained a material advantage from Municipal Elections Act violations, we believe that the culture of non-compliance that was identified in 2006 remains today.

via Reform | Fair Elections Toronto.

Regardless of outcome, the audit process and legal proceedings are expected to drag out for quite some time.


13
May 11

Campaign audit: What’s Ford thinking?

John Lorinc for the Globe & Mail:

Toronto council’s compliance audit committee today unanimously voted to order a full audit of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign expenses in response to accusations by Toronto residents Max Reed and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler that provincial elections laws were breached.

In their requests for a compliance audit, they alleged that Mr. Ford may have exceeded his spending limits and relied on unorthodox funding arrangements, which saw the Ford family’s holding company pay over $77,000 in campaign expenses.

via Full audit of Ford’s campaign expenses ordered – The Globe and Mail.

I previously indicated that this story wasn’t really doing much for me, but it’s been getting more interesting. Publicly, Ford and his press secretary Adrienne Batra have indicated that they’re happy to see an audit go forward. But Ford’s lawyer’s tact today was different.

The Toronto Star’s David Rider:

Tom Barlow, a lawyer representing Ford, argued strenuously against the need for such a probe, repeatedly noting that Ford has until September to file additional campaign information, and it will erase any concerns.

“The answers are in the second phase” of filing, Barlow told the panel. He later said Ford will consider going to the courts to try to get the panel’s ruling overturned.

via Audit ordered into Mayor Ford’s campaign financing – thestar.com.

That argument would seem to be the legal equivalent of telling your landlord that your rent cheque is in the mail.

It seems to me that Ford should simply submit to the compliance audit. If it’s found that his campaign violated the rules — and it seems plausible that they did — I don’t think he’d lose much face in admitting a mistake and accepting the penalty. It’s still very unlikely he’d get removed from office over this kind of thing.

So why the tough talk today and the spectre of a court challenge? Either the campaign is hiding something or Ford is doing that thing where he denies all wrongdoing until presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Fun coincidence of the day: at the same time Ford’s lawyer was talking about a court challenge over this issue, the City Clerk was apparently ceding to political pressure to not appeal an earlier judgment that called for a by-election in Ward 9. Set for July 25, the race will likely pit incumbent and Ford opponent Maria Augimeri against Rob Ford’s pal Gus Cusimano.

While losing Augimeri would be a blow to council’s left, it wouldn’t be a do-or-die situation. The balance of power at this point is firmly controlled by council’s middle, regardless of how things stand in Ward 9.

Still, I’d ask Ward 9 voters to consider that this race will likely be between a multi-decade veteran of council who has demonstrated an ability to fight for her Ward’s needs versus a candidate who has expressed a desire to always vote with the mayor.


8
Apr 11

Replacing the gravy train with a crazy train

Earlier this week, in response to news that board-of-one Case Ootes would approve the sale of 22 TCHC properties, the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quoted Mike Layton. “What’s the rush now?” asked the rookie councillor.

It’s a question you could ask about a lot of news coming out of City Hall. If there’s a single unifying characteristic for the first four months of Rob Ford’s administration, rushing would be it. If you buy the mayor’s claim that the previous council was some kind of “gravy train,” this council is a train of another sort, rumbling forward at a million miles per hour, taking no care on the curves. This train moves forward even at the expense of planning, consultation or process.

The mayor rushed through the budget process, and attempted to make cuts to TTC bus routes without public consultation. Every effort has been made to avoid debate on transit planning issues, though that may change next week. We were told it was imperative that every member of the TCHC board be immediately removed, even recently-appointed councillors and elected tenant representatives.

For a recent example, take the Sheppard Subway plan. This week we learned that former councillor Gordon Chong was hired as President of CEO of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd, the agency revived a month ago to oversee the early stages of the project. As John Lorinc with the Globe points out today, Chong was essentially “sole-sourced” into the position, bypassing the TTC’s normal process for recruiting senior executive positions.

Chong will be paid the equivalent of a $100,000 per year salary. Lorinc points out that he is “the third high-profile member of Mr. Ford’s transition team to find paid positions in the mayor’s administration.”

This kind of behaviour — rewarding supporters with well-paying positions; avoiding due process –, while it doesn’t appear to break any rules, seems surprising, given the mayor’s history. Ford once publicly accused Adam Vaughan of having a serious conflict of interest because a person who donated $250 to Vaughan’s campaign ended up appointed to a city committee. (Ford was later forced to apologize, then there was a party.)

Giving the mayor his deserved credit, I do believe that any characterization of Ford as even a little bit corrupt is nonsense. I think what drives the mayor is a casual ineptitude when it comes to rules and process, coupled with a general lack of patience.  You can see echoes of this in the stories (also by Lorinc) about irregularities in Ford’s campaign expenses. I doubt very much that the Fords attempted to game the system — it seems more likely that they simply barrelled forward, unencumbered by complicated campaign finance rules, taking the easiest path towards getting things done. Rush rush rush.

There’s an upside to the rushing. People often complain about the general lethargy of government. How nothing changes and nothing gets done. This administration certainly takes a different approach, and up until now it’s been largely effective in the broad-strokes. But a train moving this fast, and with so little regard for the rules of operation, runs the real risk of going off the rails.