Wynne’s fix misses Mark’s

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Monday her intention to reform Ontario’s political finance rules with changes to take effect from January 1,
1.  Ban corporate and union donations.

This is what I proposed.  If you can’t vote in an election, you shouldn’t influence its outcome with your money. This ban should also include trustees for the estates and wills of dead people – currently allowed to donate under existing Ontario law.

2.  Reduce annual donation limit to around $1,500.

I’m less fussed by the amount an individual can donate – and more concerned about who can donate.  The limit is largely irrelevant.  The devil is always in the details, so it remains to be seen what this change actually means.

Current Ontario election finance laws allow individuals to donate directly to: central parties, constituency associations and candidates.  The limit for donations to any one candidate or constituency association is already $1,330 – so $1,500 is an increase to that amount.

It seems this limit is designed to eliminate donations to more than one candidate/constituency association and/or to central parties.  Currently, donors can fund more than one candidate/constituency association of the same party – this shouldn’t be allowed.  I’ve argued that individuals should be allowed to contribute money only to the candidate running in the riding they’re eligible to vote in.

If, however, an individual wants to “support democracy” by funding more than one candidate/constituency association from different parties in the same riding, I’m fine with that.

3.  Set limits on Third Party advertising during campaign periods and pre-campaign periods.

Other jurisdictions already do this and it doesn’t work.  When you limit a union (for example) to $100,000 in advertising during a campaign period, what happens is this: you see $100K spends from the union, local 123, local 345, local 456, etc. of the same union.  Or, you see “independent” groups like Working Families Coalition (for example) spending their $100K, coincidentally I’m sure, on the same messaging.  There are too many ways around this kind of rule.  That’s why it has never worked.

The only way to make this work is ban political and issues-based advertising/marketing/communication from Third Parties entirely during the campaign period.

Also, in an era of fixed election dates, what exactly is the “pre-campaign” period?  It either is the campaign period, or it is not.  Pre-writ restrictions will be hard-pressed to stand up to a constitutional challenge, I think.

4.  Tighter rules for donations during by-elections.

I didn’t discuss this at length in my list but, suffice to say, if we limit donations to individuals, and limit individual donations to political candidates/constituency associations in the riding where they’re eligible to vote, that should preclude any inappropriate fundraising.

5.  New contribution limits for Party leadership races and nomination campaigns.

Frankly, I don’t think the average voter or taxpayer is that worried about how much money is spent on internal Party politics.  I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every Party.  Although there are no limits to leadership campaign donations, there are also no tax-credits for donations to these campaigns. If limits are proposed, a tax-credit would be required.

For now, I’d say let political parties worry about their internal leadership races.

At most, rules should limit how much money can be transferred to constituency associations (for nomination campaigns) or the central party (for leadership races).

6.  Constraints on loans and loan guarantees to Parties and candidates, including leadership candidates.

This is worth investigating and, frankly, something I hadn’t considered before.

7.  Reducing spending limits by central parties during elections.

There are already limits in place for election spending.  I’m not familiar with what should be changed re: central spending vs. candidate spending.  Worth a look, but not something I can opine on at this point.

8.  Limiting fundraising between elections.

All the changes I proposed in my 5 fixes post cover limits to fundraising between elections.  I suspect, though, the Premier is looking for some hard and fast rules that would bail her government out of the current scandal it’s in with regard to perceived “selling” of access to decision-makers in exchange for high-priced tickets to fundraising events.

If corporations and unions can’t donate, then neither could buy tickets to a dinner event.  If only individuals can donate, the ticket would have to be limited to not more than $1,500.

9.  Perhaps introduce a $2 per vote taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

I oppose this wholeheartedly on purely ideological grounds.  If a political party cannot find voters willing to donate their own money directly to the cause, then that party shouldn’t exist.

4.8 million people voted in the 2014 general election.  A $2 per vote annual subsidy would cost Ontario taxpayers just under $10 million per year.  I would suggest this amount be allocated to increasing the political tax credit for donations so that more people are encouraged to donate the maximum allowable donation.

In the end, the economic cost of supporting democracy this way is the same from the government’s point of view.  But, it allows citizens to change their economic support between elections.  I may have voted Liberal in 2014, but decide I’m not happy with their performance, and want to support the Green Party instead.  By increasing the political tax credit, I can do so.  By locking in my $2 per year to the Liberals, I cannot.  ‘Nuff said.

What hasn’t been said

What I want to know about the legislation when it’s unveiled is this:  Are these proposed changes to amount I can donate that is “eligible for tax credit” purposes – so, I can donate more if I want to, but won’t get a tax receipt?  Or, are these intended to be “hard limits on the amount I can donate and to whom?”