Four lobbyists get a slap on the wrist for donating over $23,000 to 2013 Mammoliti fundraiser.
Four lobbyists committed a “serious breach” by donating to a May 2013 private fundraiser for Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), according to a report from Toronto’s lobbyist registrar [PDF]. The lobbyists, who include prominent lawyer Ralph Lean, Sheldon Libfeld, Luigi Santaguida, and Medallion Developments, donated over $23,000 for a red carpet dinner in support of the councillor.
The dinner occurred outside of any campaign fundraising period. For the event, Mammoliti was found in breach of council’s code of conduct in 2014, and was assessed the highest penalty possible, the forfeiture of three months salary. Despite the penalty, Mammoliti profited from the event. He currently faces a police investigation in relation to the fundraiser.
The four lobbyists will have to attend mandatory lobbyist training sessions, which is basically the Breakfast Club for lobbyists. They will also be prohibited from directly lobbying Mammoliti for the duration of this council term, lest they are further put into a conflict of interest.
The four lobbyists took issue with the assessed penalties for various reasons. They argued that they acted in good faith, relied on Mammoliti’s reassurance that legal advice okayed the event, and that publicly naming them would unfairly damage their reputation. Lobbyist registrar Linda Gehrke comes to the conclusion that these arguments are secondary to the fact that they privately gave a councillor thousands of dollars in contravention of rules they pledged to uphold.
This would all seem to fit with a narrative that lobbyists are nefarious beings that undermine the system at city hall, but that’s not necessarily the case. The most telling paragraph in Gehrke’s report came not from the lobbyist registrar, but from the Medallion lobbyists, who represent a number of projects in Mammoliti’s ward.
Medallion did not set out to run afoul of the Lobbying By-law. Medallion was put in the extremely difficult position of being asked to contribute to the fundraiser. Both Nathan Bleeman and Howard Paskowitz stated under affirmation during their interviews by Investigations Counsel that they did not feel comfortable participating but also did not feel they could refuse. Medallion recognizes now that it should have refused to be involved, but submits that its conduct was the result of an error in judgment. Medallion is a real estate development and property management company which owns, develops and operates residential, industrial and commercial buildings. Many of Medallion’s properties are located in Ward 7, which is Councillor Mammoliti’s ward.
Despite claiming an error in judgment on its part, Medallion clearly seems to have known that something was wrong with this fundraiser—why else would they “Not feel comfortable participating”? The most troubling part, if we are to take them at their word, is not that they made a potential error in judgment, but that they knew it was wrong “But also did not feel they could refuse.”
It’s the lobbyist equivalent of “Don’t blame the player, blame the game,” and that’s troubling to read.