Publishing contributions a thorny election issue
Several candidates have already committed to revealing donors
Curious whose money is behind the slick billboards and bus ads sure to pop up across Edmonton as candidates try to win your vote?
This year, several incumbents and challengers have committed to publishing their donor lists prior to election day.
Coun. Bryan Anderson already posted an initial list of $13,500 in donations on his website this month, though it continues to be a touchy subject among his colleagues.
“Candidates and incumbents are very mixed about this because all it’s doing is giving (critics and the media) an opportunity to pursue and look for reason to write a story on something, whatever it happens to be,” he said, seeming to rethink his decision.
“I’m doing it because I have no concern about who donates and if I do, I won’t accept the money. My campaign is an open book,” Anderson said.
“In hindsight, I probably concur with some of the concerns of other councillors. ... If you click on (the link) in two weeks and find it’s not there anymore, then I’ve joined that crew. But right now it’s there.”
Most challengers contacted said they will disclose donations before the election, including school trustee Heather MacKenzie, former Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues president David Dodge, former Alberta Liberal candidate Arif Khan, community organizer Michael Walters, former councillor Mike Nickel and former Journal columnist Scott McKeen.
“Transparency is important to democracy,” said Dodge, adding that his team will post its list at least one month before the election.
Coun. Linda Sloan has also committed to posting her campaign donations before the election, and councillors Amarjeet Sohi and Ben
Henderson said they would like to if that’s possible for their volunteers.
Councillors Dave Loken and Tony Caterina said they were not planning to post, but are not opposed to the idea.
“I’d love to do it and I’ve tried to do it in the past,” Henderson said.
The problem was many donations come in late during the campaign and his books are kept by volunteers.
“They were just madly trying to keep up with the bookkeeping of it.”
Few people in Sohi’s Mill Woods constituency have been asking for it, Sohi said, but “these kind of things do enhance democratic accountability.
“We have nothing to hide, but we need to have consistent rules for all candidates.”
“Transparency is important to democracy.”
The election is scheduled for Oct. 21. Candidates are not legally required to disclose who funded their campaigns until March 2014, when provincial law states they must provide the city clerk’s office with a list of donations greater than $100. The city clerk reviews the statements and posts them online.
During the last election, several candidates called for full disclosure in the name of transparency, and in Calgary, the issue was key in their 2010 mayoral campaign.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi raised $404,000 in 2010 compared to $1 million by Calgary’s second place finisher Ric McIver and has been lobbying the provincial government for campaign spending limits, lower individual contribution limits and to make early disclosure mandatory.
Last election, all three front runners disclosed their donations before the election. A recent Calgary Herald survey found at least 11 of their 14 aldermen were planning to disclose early this time.
In Edmonton’s mayoral race, Coun. Don Iveson said he will disclose his campaign donation lists before the election, as he did in 2010 during his run for Ward 10.
He said he agrees with Nenshi’s push to make early disclosure mandatory.
Mayoral candidates (and sitting councillors) Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte said they will not disclose their lists before the election, saying they would follow the rules for disclosure as the province wrote them.
Diotte said the only change he wants to see is for donations to municipal campaigns to become tax deductible like federal and provincial donations are.
Curtis Penner, a community league president who is also running for mayor, said he will post his donations and update them every Sunday.
It’s a political game, said Coun. Ed Gibbons, who is running for re-election in Ward 4 and is not planning to post his donation lists prior to the election.
“The reason why Nenshi played the game last campaign is because his opponents that he beat had all the money. He’s playing it this time, too, because the homebuilders and all the developers can’t stand the guy. They’re saying, we’re not giving you anything,” said Gibbons.
“Don Iveson’s probably going to say that he agrees with (Nenshi) totally because he’s not getting any money,” said Gibbons, guessing at Iveson’s campaign finances.
Coun. Ed Gibbons said he isn’t publishing his donors list early because that’s just fishing for controversy.
“Nobody running against me can raise the kind of money I can raise and I already raised it,” he said, adding that 165 people paid between $100 and $325 to attend his fundraiser.
“I always run a tight budget, but I don’t know why I would want to give it before the election.”