Millions of dollars were spent in the last municipal elections in Calgary, and a select few know exactly where that money came from.
This is after Elections Calgary redacted the names of donors to Third Party Advertisers (TPA) for a freedom of information request for TPA election finances.
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Global News has received election finance statements for eight of the nine TPAs registered for last fall’s election. Only one had not redacted donor information.
A statement said the city sought consent from the TPAs before releasing the financial records, as part of their obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“The city has been advised by the TPAs that their individual contributors were not advised that their information may be publicly disclosed. As such, third party, personal and business information has been removed,” the statement read.
A Calgary political scientist said the lack of transparency about who donates to produce election advertising for or against candidates and issues is a problem for the state of local democracy.
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“Democracy is about at least being able to understand what those influences might be and to some degree reduce them,” said Lori Williams, associate professor of political studies at Mount Royal University.
“It seems to go against the spirit of the law, which was to provide disclosure that would be publicly available.”
In the municipal election, candidates were required to disclose the names and amounts of their donors after the vote, as required by the Local Authority Elections Act (LAEA).
And for TPAs operating at the provincial level, their donors are disclosed to the public by Elections Alberta each quarter.
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Mayor Jyoti Gondek was baffled by the lack of donor transparency.
“All of us who ran for office had to disclose who our donors were,” she told reporters on Monday. “I find it very strange that third-party advertisers don’t have to do the same.
“It looks like a big mistake.”
A Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson said if the information is not regularly reported by municipalities, FOIP requests can be made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. .
“There is no mandatory requirement that registered third-party advertisers be publicly disclosed or listed on a municipality’s website,” Scott Johnston said in an email.
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Late Monday afternoon, Elections Calgary said it would raise concerns about the disclosure of TPA donors to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as part of a post-election review.
“When this engagement takes place, Elections Calgary will recommend that the LAEA be amended to provide that TPA registration and disclosure statements be regularly made available to the public, reflecting the arrangements in place for public access to records. applications and candidate disclosure statements,” the statement read said.
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Johnston said the department was preparing for the post-election review.
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“While there are no plans for major changes to the third-party advertising rules, one item under consideration is the possibility of requiring third-party advertisers who are focused on a problem (rather than a or more applicants) follow the same rules as other third-party advertisers,” Johnston said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“We will be seeking input from Albertans and Alberta municipalities on this and other issues over the coming weeks.”
Williams presented the scenario where an individual could donate the maximum personal donation amount of $5,000 and then also funnel up to $30,000 to anyone TPA to advertise for or against their favorite candidate. undesirable candidates.
“In other words, the things that happen make the playing field uneven or unfair to those who don’t have the advantage of deep-pocketed donors, the public doesn’t know about this injustice and can’t take decisions based on this knowledge.
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Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci wants TPA donation limits – which were raised in 2020 under the UCP government – to be lowered.
“If people are investing their money, it should be clear who those people, organizations or companies are,” Ceci said, adding that it’s a “basic principle” of democracy. “We should know who is funding the campaigns and hiding behind a third party advertiser, it’s not transparent and it’s not democratic.”
With the provincial election a year away, the former Calgary councilor said the TPAs are undeniably part of the province’s electoral landscape.
“I think third-party advertisers are here to stay. I think we can only regulate them, and I think we can do a better job of regulating them, even if the UCP doesn’t care.
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Ward County 6. Richard Pootmans said the campaign finance system for TPAs is an “extremely serious problem.”
“I think the rules are in kindergarten, and I think we have to go to high school very, very quickly with that,” Pootmans said. The reader on 770 CHQR. “We’re nowhere, and I think we’ve helped import the worst of the American system and try it locally.
“We are paying the price and the price is public confidence in our elections.”
According to Global News’ calculations of TPA’s financial records, $2.3 million was given to advertisers and they spent $2.1 million on the election.
The median amount raised was $43,525 and the median TPA spend was $34,167.
Calgary’s Future raised and spent the most money, exceeding $1.6 million, thanks to donations from unions representing Calgary city workers. It was the only TPA to release its donors, but no individual names were made public.
ABC PAC did not even meet the $1,000 threshold to register as a TPA under the Local Authority Elections Act (LAEA), raising and spending $625.
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While some TPAs like Look Forward have spent $108,246 to back a set of candidates, Calgary Tomorrow only backed Jeff Davison in his bid for mayor, to the tune of around $275,000 after raising over $422,000. $.
Williams said the fact that more money was spent directly and indirectly on Davison’s campaign didn’t win him the mayoralty — echoes of the election past — doesn’t mean money doesn’t talk during an election .
“There is no direct link between donations and electoral success. But it makes a difference, it has an influence, it can raise a candidate’s profile, it can give a very different impression of a candidate or just put them on the radar – whereas those with less money don’t don’t have that same luck. »
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According to Global News calculations, Facebook brought in more than one in six ad dollars spent during the campaign period. Other expenses included print advertising and website costs.
Williams said transparency about the flow of dollars in an election is an essential part of fairness in Canadian democracy.
“It’s important for voters to know where donations are coming from and where they’re going so they can make informed choices and decisions about how to vote,” Williams said. “Or for that matter, we can observe the decisions they make on the board and ask questions about whether they are being unduly influenced by a particular group, industry or individual.”
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