Politics

Corporate Cash Trumps Public Policy

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 25, 2006

(This was published in today's Hamilton Spectator as a letter to the editor)

Re: Di Ianni opposes donation limits (Aug. 23)

With the campaign financing controversy that continues to swirl around this municipal election cycle, I'm very happy to see such excellent reporting in our city newspaper.

Reporter Nicole MacIntyre writes, "[Mayor Larry] Di Ianni said the idea of declaring a conflict is based on the concept politicians are swayed by donations and not by public policy, a premise he doesn't agree with."

Di Ianni is attacking a straw man here. The issue is not that donations will "sway" councillors but rather that candidates who already advocate for business interests receive more money, giving them an unfair advantage.

With the extra money, they can run slicker, more comprehensive campaigns with better media coverage, improving their electoral odds.

Until we remove corporate money from local politics, it will continue to trump public policy as the deciding factor in our municipal elections.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted August 25, 2006 at 09:08:35

Great job and nice work on getting published in the Spec (yet again). It was Canadians' belief that corporate cash should be eliminated from our elections that brought us federal election reform. It's high time our city caught up to the federal government.

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 29, 2006 at 18:30:57

Thanks for the e-mail respecting CATCH's notions about how municipal election campaigns should be financed.

Presently I'm the front-runner in ward seven now that Liberal Incumbant Bill Kelly has decided to persue private interests, instead of the publics interests, It's mine to lose.

Having participated in the last four municipal elections and having the distinction of being the first Hamiltonian to call for an election audit, not Chapman, it would be fair to say I know all there is to know about what goes on here in Hamilton, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I have always self-funded my campaigns because of the controvery created by municipal candidates who are not familiar with the municipal elections act and neither are their corporate donors, so they fouled their own nest.

But criminalizing corporate donors was the wrong thing to do, and they are rightly steamed.

The rules are clear, so there's really no excuse accept when paid consultants like Earnscliffe strategy Groups employees 'volunteer' to run your municipal election campaign.

You know the one.

They handled all the money and the required paperwork, most of the time in secret.

Usually the candidate's are too busy to run around collecting cheques from the Captains of Industry nor handle the book keeping and record taking that is required under the municipal elections act.

So when the Mayor was caught up in controversy he was loathe to call a spade a spade, especially a Liberal Earnscliffe Consultants one that should have been fired on the spot.

I take it this individual won't be making the same mistakes on this campaign since he's running it again, nor repeat his strange lapse in judgement by not informing the donors of their responsabilities under the auspices of the Municipal Elections Act, nor bothering to tell the candidate that there were multiple cheques given by the same donors.

As I told Dan in an earlier communiqe, I would agree with many points in CATCH's press release that will go a long way in improving accountability and transparency.

But with Bill Kelly not running, that leaves me, an independant, and the NDP's offering, Scott Duvall, someone with long union roots who is already retired and double dipping on pensions, so why did the NDP recruit this ex-officio union executive when they know full well that elected politicians like NDP member Chris Charlton are discouraged from trying to gerrymandre local elections like this one, by foisting in a candidate that will do the NDP's bidding at the council table?

What did ward seven challenger Scott Duvall promise to do for the NDP in return for using the NDP's riding association members to work his campaign?

What's Scott Duvall's "secret agenda", he must have one since the NDP came to him, not the other way around, as much as Scott Duvall will try to claim otherwise.

He will be soundly rejected on November 13th, that's a fact.

He will be rendered DOA at the ballot box by the time November 13th rolls around.

So what's the difference whether a bunch of developers getting together and properly funding a candidate of their choice, or in Scott duvall's case, the provincial NDP getting their members together to foist their candidate in by doing all the canvassing and leg work?

As far as I'm concerned, nothing at all, they are both the wrong thing to do.

So what should I do as the front runner, refuse to take union and developer money while the NDP recruited candidate Scott Duvall gets access to all the NDP riding associations members, so he can solicit funds from them?

It will be easy to tell if this is true because I know where most of the NDP members live and seeing Scott Duvall election signs on their front lawns will prove Chris Charltons riding association is involved up to their necks.

Unlike Scott duvall, I have a proven public record of advocacy for disabled children that is known around the world.

My disabled son Logan recently passed away and I have his fire in my belly to win this election for him, just like I promised Logan I would when he was alive.

I'm a man of my word.

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By Jonathan (registered) | Posted August 29, 2006 at 22:41:13

You're right Mark, there's no difference. The CATCH proposal is not so much about fairness as it is getting their favoured candidates elected. I'm sure they'd prefer Duvall to you, for instance, given your political leanings.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2006 at 07:40:09

Jonathan, if that were the case, then CATCH would be trying to stop corporate donations but not union donations. Instead, the campaign treats both types of organizations equally. That sounds fair to me.

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By Jonathan (registered) | Posted August 30, 2006 at 09:13:30

Hey Ryan, I initial thought that, but if you take a look at a recent CATCH article, you'll see that union donations were considerably less than corporate last time around. I guess Don McLean figures that, by eliminating both types of contributions, he'd be doing more damage to his opponents than his friends. http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/articles/ar...

Also, Mark's point is quite valid in that, even if a union can't donate cash, they can (and do) donate campaign workers. The NDP have used this to great effect for some time. So, you lose $750 from local xzy, big deal.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2006 at 09:24:29

Jonathan, I see your point, but I find myself looking at the issue in reverse: if corporations donate a lot more money than unions, that suggests corporations wield a lot more influence, to the extent that money confers influence. (And if it doesn't confer influence, then why do those corporations bother wasting their money?)

It's no secret that municipal politics is heavily influenced by what developers want. The developers themselves try to argue that they're only providing what the public wants (handily conflating "consumers" with "electors").

However, the system of municipal regulations, established over years of influence by the development industry, makes it illegal to build anything other than the horizontal sprawl subdivisions and vertical sprawl condo towers that developers are so eager to build, so the market is not "free".

If that money is taken out of politics and candidates have to run based on ideas and policies without unfair financial advantages to those politicians who support what the developers want, then political ideas that are unpopular with developers will actually have an equal opportunity to be heard, debated, and defended by electors.

As for donating campaign workers: if those workers are being paid while working for the candidate, then their time should be regarded as a donation and be subject to the CATCH pledge. If the workers help out on their own time, then they're doing so as volunteers of their own volition, no different than any other volunteer.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2006 at 12:42:23

2 points I want to pick up on

  1. If we are implying (or stating) that some campaign volunteers (ie unpaid campaign workers) are looking for kick backs in return for the time they donate to campaigns - well that's an interesting point. However, I don't think there's much to be done about that. As Ryan states, people are free to donate their time. If we agree with this point, then in theory anyone - including Businesses, Unions, Activist groups, Political parties - could donate campaign workers in return for favours. I think if we are looking for a way to 'control' volunteer workers we're on a hiding to nothing. I agree that the 'system' is theoretically still open to influence, despite the CATCH proposal, but I think the CATCH campaign addresses the guts of the current political influence problem and we should support it.

  2. A campaign run on 'ideas' and 'policies'? Wouldn't that be nice. I noticed that none of these were evident on the Ward 7 candidates post. Stop whining about conspiricies and start selling your ideas.

Ben

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2006 at 14:59:00

Ok Ben Bull, I support free wireless for downtown as proposed by Councilor Whitehead as way to attract people to the downtown district and I would also like to see ever child who starts school has a wireless laptop computer registered to them.

This could be funded from what's left of the Hamilton Hydro legacy fund, if the alderman haven't already drained it dry on pet projects for special interest groups.

The program would cost about $2 million at $200 each for a basic Dell Inspiron bought in bulk.

Don't worry, I checked. It's doable.

This would raise many children from poverty because knowlege empowers them to do so by doing better in school.

Ever child from one end of the city to the other would benefit and be on an equal footing as their peers in class, no matter their station in life.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2006 at 16:13:10

Alright, we've just written a $2M cheque to Dell and have a truckload of cheap computers... now what? Well I guess we'd better install or upgrade the networks in every school in the city. (Let's just ignore the parents' worries that beaming rf into their children's heads is bad for their health.) Now we'll need either staff or contractors to maintain all this new infrastructure. Don't worry about the laptops, I'm sure the kids will treat them fine and cause no damage not covered by the warranty (If there even is one at this price.)

What about security? You plan on having every child use a laptop with potentially identifying information on inherently insecure wireless networks? Just trying to patch that one up won't be cheap.

Two million indeed.

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