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