How to Give Money to a Municipal Candidate
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How to Give Money to a Municipal Candidate

The complex rules and restrictions for contributing to mayoral and council campaigns.

Running a municipal election campaign can be an expensive business. Fortunately for the candidates, there’s no shortage of generous donors willing to send money to their favourite politicians. During the 2010 race, more than $6.6 million was donated to mayoral contenders by benefactors from all over Ontario.

But how far can election contributions go? And what kind of restrictions are involved?

The City of Toronto has quite stringent, often complex regulations for contributing to municipal campaigns. Any individual living in Ontario, including a candidate or their spouse, can give up to $2,500 to a mayoral candidate or as much as $750 to a ward candidate. You can contribute to more than one person in the same race, up to a maximum total of $5,000. In 2009, council voted to ban donations by corporations and trade unions.

Contributions of goods and services are subject to the same limits. Providers of non-financial donations must issue invoices for the monetary value of their contributions—this also applies to goods or services sold to a candidate for less than market value. The difference between market value and the amount charged by the provider is considered a campaign contribution and must be invoiced. Certain types of services—such as political advertising and voluntary unpaid labour—are not considered official contributions. But if an employer pays their employee beyond their normal wage to help out on a campaign, that extra amount is considered a contribution and must be invoiced.

Mayoral and council contenders must issue receipts for all money, goods, and services provided to their campaigns. Candidates are prohibited from accepting anonymous donations of more than $10, and must report all the contributions they receive in a Financial Statement and Auditor’s Report. This statement must also include the names and addresses of anyone who contributed more than $100. These financial statements are later posted on the City’s website.

If a candidate finds out that a contribution to their campaign does not meet all the rules, they have to return the contribution to the donor or, if that’s not possible, they must give the financial value of the contribution to the city clerk.

Campaign contributors, even ones who don’t live in Toronto, have the added incentive of getting a City-funded rebate on their donations—a controversial practice that has recently spurred several calls for reform. The 2010 municipal election resulted in $4.3 million worth of rebates being handed out, and this year’s election is expected to yield $4.8 million.

People who contribute $25 or more in money, but not goods or services, are eligible to receive up to $1,000 from the City. Rebate amounts are tied to contribution amounts by a complex set of formulae, and rounded up to the nearest dollar. Donations of between $25 and $300 receive a 75–per-cent rebate. Larger donations are subject to a complex rebate formula: when you give between $301 and $1,000, the calculation of your rebate is $225 plus 50 per cent of the difference between your total contribution and $300. And if you’ve given more than $1,000, your rebate is $225 plus 33-and-a-third per cent of the difference between your contribution amount and $1,000.

Toronto’s contribution restrictions are serious business. Candidates and donors caught running afoul of them can face up to a $25,000 in addition to, or instead of, up to six years in prison. So by all means, give to the candidate or candidates of your choice—but be sure to do it right.