Doug Ford on election night.
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.
Under the Municipal Elections Act, money spent on fundraising functions can be written off, almost like business expenses on an income tax return. If the councillors’ expenses were actually improperly classified, all four of them would have exceeded City-mandated election spending limits and would face penalties ranging from fines to forfeiture of office.
“We share an interest in maintaining appropriate accountability,” said Chaleff-Freudenthaler of Fair Elections Toronto, “and share the view that there needs to be a reform in our present laws to get rid of the extraordinary amount of grey area within them.”
Fair Elections Toronto’s argument hinges on a narrow definition of “fundraising function” as an event at which fundraising happens. The activists acknowledge that the phrase’s exact parameters haven’t been tested in court, meaning the candidates themselves might not have known for sure if their expenses were eligible for the exemption. Most of the alleged violations are not clear-cut.
Doug Ford’s campaign, for example, claimed $6,000 in fundraising commissions paid to a staffer as expenses related to a fundraising function. Michael Thompson’s campaign claimed more than $15,000 for a fundraising activity, which the activists allege, based on their own analysis, was actually a telephone fundraising campaign, conducted over the course of months. Giorgio Mammoliti’s campaign spent more than $17,000 on fundraising expenses that aren’t explained in detail in his election filings.
Councillors during the first meeting of this term of office; Doug Ford is at the bottom of the row and Giorgio Mammoliti at the top.
Fair Elections Toronto has also identified four council candidates who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 who, the group says, accepted illegal corporate contributions. The 2010 election was the first in which donations from corporations and trade unions were banned.
The group’s members have filed their complaints with the City’s Compliance Audit Committee, a citizen body that exists to review allegations of financial misconduct during municipal elections. The committee will have 30 days to decide whether or not to order full audits of some or all of the candidates in question.
Though the four sitting councillors identified are right-leaning, Chaleff-Freudenthaler says he and his colleagues examined all councillors’ expenses. “We tried to determine who we thought broke the law and also gained in a material way,” he said.
This comes after a similar audit request in regards to Rob Ford’s campaign finances, filed by Chaleff-Freudenthaler and Max Reed, was green-lighted by the audit committee. That case is now in court.
Chaleff-Freudenthaler thinks these will likely be the last audit requests filed by Fair Elections Toronto, but he said that the group plans to take on other projects.
“This is the first stage,” he explained. “And as we continue forward more towards the reform process, we’ll be expanding more publicly.”
But compliance audit requests seem to be catching on. A few minutes ago, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale discovered that former councillor Howard Moscoe has filed one against sitting councillor Gus Cusimano, and that Cusimano has in turn filed one against councillor Maria Augimeri. The allegations in both cases are along the same lines as those in the Fair Elections Toronto filings: misclassified fundraising expenses.
Read the full audit filings on the Fair Elections Toronto website.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
[Disclosure: Chaleff-Freudenthaler is Torontoist editor-in-chief Hamutal Dotan’s partner; in light of that potential conflict of interest, this post was edited by deputy editor Meg Campbell.]