More than $750,000 of the roughly $3.5 million in documented 2017 Calgary campaign cash for sitting city councillors had no clear indication of the donation’s origin.
Some Calgary city councillors revealed the donors behind virtually every penny they disclosed while others didn’t, our continued analysis of 2017 campaign funding showed.
Last week, our series on municipal campaign financing showed that roughly one-third of municipal campaign donations going to sitting councillors came from the Calgary development industry.
We acknowledged that figure could be higher than shown.
In this second piece in the series, we’ll explore that further. We’ll look at the disclosures themselves and how each councillor submitted information on their backers in a different way – particularly around fundraising events.
This prevented an exact comparison of disclosures.
Eight members of Calgary city council provided an account of all cash, including that of donations made through fundraising events. Seven others didn’t.
The kicker: All of them followed Alberta municipal campaign finance rules.
There are no specific rules outlining the contents of the municipal campaign disclosures, except that they must be submitted by a certain date. They must also not include false or misleading statements.
Elections Calgary receives the disclosures but doesn’t review them. And no review requirements are outlined in Alberta’s Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA).
“The Returning Officer does not review the substance of candidates’ financial statements,” read an emailed response from the City of Calgary.
“The Returning Officer ensures the candidate submits their disclosure statement on the prescribed, statutory form (Form 26) within the prescribed timeframe and ensures dates and signatures are completed in the appropriate fields to allow for submission.”
Spotlight on councillor campaign disclosures
The disclosures submitted by sitting council members are different. Not only in their totals, but in the contents.
On Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca’s disclosure cover sheet, it indicates $19,690 in contributions. “Fund-raising functions” amounted to $319,139.09 (from 2014 to 2017). The LAEA differentiates between contributions and “fund-raising” activities.
Individual or corporate contributions were logged with names and amounts. “Fund-raising” functions are a net total (minus expenses). They aren’t subjected to the same reporting definition in the LAEA.
In Coun. Magliocca’s public disclosure, participants in fundraising activites aren’t included in his tally. So, it’s impossible to say whom the contributors were. His disclosure also doesn’t include the specific costs of fundraising activities.
The rules state, however, that a candidate can claim up to 25 per cent of fundraising costs for tickets over $100. The balance is a contribution. Conceivably, there could have been another 25 per cent in funds raised at these events, according to the rules. There’s no mechanism in place to account for where those funds come from.
We reached out to Coun. Magliocca via text to ask about these fundraising activities. We haven’t yet received a response.
Similarly, in Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu’s disclosure, $165,619.90 was attributed to fundraising activities. He had $87,930.05 in documented contributions. None of the $165K from fundraising, however, is attached to a specific donor.
We also attempted to reach Coun. Chu, but didn’t receive a response.
Other disclosures had varying details
Those were the two highest fundraising amounts. Some, with smaller fundraising amounts did not disclose. In those cases, it was a smaller portion of their overall fundraising.
Coun. Jyoti Gondek had $43,895 in fundraising activities that were not included in her publicly posted disclosure. She did disclose fundraising ticket purchasers prior to election day on her campaign website. Still, she said it wasn’t intentional leaving them off the submitted version.
“The intent was not to hide who purchased a ticket. It was really just streamlining the reporting,” she said. Gondek said she didn’t want to make excuses for it either. She said she knows why, when dealing with larger amounts, that the public should know where that money comes from.
“I would be happy to see the province say that you must disclose every single person that purchased a ticket,” she said.
“But, you’re given zero guidelines on anything.”
In contrast, Ward 14’s Coun. Peter Demong accounted for all the revenue in his disclosure. That’s including fundraising functions. He also showed the fundraising expenses. As did others; Couns. Farkas, Farrell, Keating and Carra were also complete.
Despite these irregularities, everyone is disclosing within the provincial guidelines.
When we asked the province if the disclosures are reviewed, they pointed to a section that reads a candidate shall not knowingly make false or misleading statements. If there are discrepancies or contravention of election finance rules, the Alberta Elections Commissioner can investigate.
None of the disclosures contravene the rules.
When asked if there’s a set of rules around consistent reporting, the province quoted direct from the LAEA.
On follow up, we asked why there weren’t any specific rules on disclosing donors at fundraising activities. We haven’t yet received a response. (It will be included when we do.)
Lack of disclosure oversight
Aside from the rules around filing, there’s no bar for consistent finance reporting, said former Calgary city councillor, Brian Pincott.
“There is no checking. There’s no oversight of whether what you filed is accurate or complete,” he said. Pincott, while detailing many of his campaign expenses in his 2013 filing, didn’t have a list of donors from $46,624 in fundraising activities.
“There needs to be some kind of oversight. That falls squarely on the province. It’s not a City of Calgary thing.”
Pincott said there was an attempt to put in some local election reporting rules, but they didn’t get off the ground. Others resisted, citing it being a provincial responsibility.
“You can put rules in place and if somebody doesn’t follow the rules, you call them out on it,” he said.
Greg Miller, who ran in Ward 4 in the 2017 election and lost by less than 3,000 votes to Coun. Sean Chu, said you follow the format that’s prescribed in the LAEA.
“Basically there’s a form that comes out of the local authorities election act and you just fill it in,” he said.
He confirmed that receipts for expenses aren’t needed either.
Miller said the key is in disclosure before election day. He thinks it would be simple to set up an apparatus for monthly, full fundraising reporting leading up to the Oct. 18 election date.
“The province could do it with a stroke of a pen. And we need that reporting before the actual election date. It’s really instructive and it’s really important,” he said.
The changes in the Local Authorities Election Act earlier this year removed the authority for cities to pass bylaws regulating pre-election contribution disclosures.
Pre-election campaign finance disclosures
During Calgary’s three-day Combined Meeting of Council that began Nov. 2, councillors heard from deputy city clerk Jeremy Fraser that stepping outside their statutory role presents risks to the city.
“Stepping outside that role creates risks, especially when those activities could create a basis for electors to draw adverse inferences against candidates who would otherwise comply with statutory requirements,” he said.
The city said they didn’t want to influence voters in the upcoming municipal election by having some candidates post pre-election disclosures and others not. They wanted to avoid the perception that it meant select candidates were abiding by the rules.
Coun. Farkas suggested a link to a candidate’s voluntary pre-election disclosure if they had it.
“My rationale here is that we wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. Clerks wouldn’t be responsible for any type of vetting or hosting of the materials but simply they would provide the link to the proactive disclosure if the candidate chooses to provide it,” Farkas said.
Fraser reiterated concerns around some candidates having it and others not. The public may draw inadvertent conclusions about that candidate.
Farkas’ suggestion was watered down to a request to the returning officer to consider ways to allow this to happen.
“I think Calgarians benefit from transparency,” Farkas said.
“Donors benefit from transparency and candidates benefit from transparency.”
The measure was carried 13-1.
Tax receipts for transparency?
When asked how accountability could be improved around disclosures, the majority of people we spoke with agreed that tax receipts for municipal campaigns would be a big help.
Like allowances for provincial and federal contributions, citizens could get a tax break by contributing to a municipal politician.
It’s a whole different ball of wax when reporting to the Canada Revenue Agency. There’s a level of accounting required, said Pincott.
“Tax receipts bring in a reporting requirement that’s non existent right now,” he said.
“There’s a much greater degree of accountability because tax receipts are public.”
Coun. Shane Keating agrees. He said there should be greater transparency, one of the reasons he accounted for all revenue – donor contributions or fundraising activities.
“There are councillors that will write down that they got $30,000 at a fundraiser. Who does that come from?” Keating asked.
“If they get $100 from one or five, and $5,000 from another, you don’t know, right?”
Calgary will vote in a municipal election on Oct. 18, 2021.
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