Excess campaign donations highlight lack of clarity in elections act

Election rules were no match for common sense at London’s city hall on Friday where the ordeal of two business leaders who exceeded the campaign donation limit is shining a spotlight on gaps in the Municipal Elections Act.

Summoned before city hall's Compliance Audit Committee, U-Need-A-Cab President Ismail Omer said no one warned him of the $5,000 limit on total donations made during last year's municipal election.

He gave $7,100 between nine candidates, “My sincere apology for the mistake that I have made, it was totally not being aware of this, plain and simple.”

Winmar President John White also claimed no knowledge of the limit, until receiving notice from the city clerk this week.

His 11 donations exceeded the limit by just $100, “If I would have known about the rule, I definitely wouldn't have over contributed.”

After going behind closed doors for about 30 minutes, the committee decided not to pursue either matter.

Chair Andrew Wright explaining, “We are not going to order the commencement of legal proceedings as we don't see a public interest in doing so.”

The Municipal Elections Act requires candidates to notify donors of the limit, but ultimately it is donors who face the consequence of being called in front of the compliance committee.

City Clerk Cathy Saunders explains that the act is silent about how candidates are to provide notification about the limit, whether written, verbal or on a donation receipt.

“It doesn't set out the regulations how to do it, just that the obligation is on the candidate to do that.”

Councillor Shawn Lewis points to the problem that creates, “That has to come from the city. It cannot come from the candidates. It’s not our job to police other people’s campaigns. It’s not our job to ask people who else they've donated to.”

Former Ward 5 candidate Randy Warden worries this could all have a chilling effect on funding in future municipal elections.

“For heaven’s sake, to start hauling people out because they were overly generous trying to support a cause is something we should be cautious of.”

The committee continues investigating complaints that mayoral candidates Paul Paolatto and Paul Cheng campaigned prior to the official start date, and that Cheng exceeded the candidate contribution limit.

It meets again in June.