How to clean up the fundraising mess
Honorable Yasir Naqvi, MPP
Government House Leader
Room 223, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A2
RE: Response to draft legislation to reform Ontario’s election financing rules
Dear Hon. Minister Naqvi,
The influence of big money in politics has weakened trust in the integrity of government decision making. Reforming election fundraising is essential to restoring trust in our democracy.
I’m pleased that the Premier listened to many of the GPO’s ideas for election fundraising reform when we met on April 12. The draft bill takes a big step in the right direction, but it can be strengthened.
I’ve limited my comments to specific areas where I believe the bill should be improved.
1. Lower contribution limits
The proposed contributions limits will not get big money out of politics.
Under the draft legislation a single donor could contribute up to $7,750 to each registered party during an election year.
This number is too high - most citizens do not have $7,750 to donate to a political party.
The donation limit in Quebec is $100. The province already had the lowest donation limit in Canada at $1000, but reduced this even further in 2013 as a result of the findings of the Charbonneau Commission. Lower limits were put in place to avoid political corruption or the appearance of big money buying influence in the awarding of government contracts.
The contribution limit per registered party should be a maximum of $1,550. A donor can choose to allocate this maximum among the party, constituency association and candidates.
The proposed limit for leadership contestants is also too high. Setting limits where there are none is a good step. However, allowing an individual to contribute $1,550 to each leadership contestant could result in an excessively high donation limit. For example, if 10 candidates were running, a donor could contribute $15,550 with a maximum contribution to each candidate.
Instead, the GPO supports a contribution limit of $1,550 to the leadership contestants of a party in total. This is similar to the contribution limits for leadership contestants federally.
2. Lower spending limits
Spending limits for political parties and candidates must be lowered.
Lowering limits reduces the pressure for political parties to raise money and creates a more even playing field for all parties and candidates.
Spending limits should be lowered to match those in Quebec. For political parties that would be $0.68 per elector. The current level in Ontario is $0.80 per elector.
For candidates, the spending limit should be lowered to $0.73 per elector in the riding from the current $1.28 per elector.
We support annual indexation of spending limits and the additional increased spending limits for designated remote ridings.
3. Eliminate the partial reimbursement of campaign expenses
Currently, candidates receiving over 15% of the vote receive a partial reimbursement of election expenses. This encourages spending rather than good financial planning, and is clearly unfair to small parties, new candidates and the taxpayers who voted for them.
This practise funds the campaigns of established parties with the tax dollars of people who voted against them. The partial reimbursement of campaign expenses should be eliminated.
4. Improve disclosure rules and implement ‘smart’ nomination requirements
Stronger disclosure and oversight rules are needed to ensure that corporations and unions do not funnel donations to political parties through individuals.
In the US, for example, individuals are required to list their employer and occupation when making a donation. Ontario should adopt similar requirements, with parties providing this information to Elections Ontario as part of their real-time disclosure requirements.
Regulating rules for nomination meetings is also important. But many contestants seeking nomination do not incur expenses or raise money for their nomination campaign.
One-size-fits-all nomination rules may deter some citizens from participating in this process. It is important to create rules that allow for the proper oversight and disclosure for larger campaigns, with a simplified process for nomination campaigns that do not have any financial activity.
5. Permanent per vote allowance
To make sure public policy is developed in the public interest, the public should fund political parties. We strongly support making the per vote allowance to registered political parties permanent.
A per-vote allowance for political parties is a more democratic form of public financing than the existing system of tax credits. Voters authorize the per-vote allowance every time they vote. It’s a vote-to-play system, rather than the current system where wealthy donors can pay-to-play.
Our research indicates that the per vote allowance estimated at $10.9 million would cost taxpayers less than the $13.4 million spent on the political contribution tax credit during fiscal year 2014 - 2015. Even though the GPO supports contribution tax credits, we believe a per vote allowance should be given budgetary priority.
The GPO does not believe a party eligibility threshold of 2 percent is necessary. We believe the government should explore other options to ensure a certain level of administrative capacity and electoral support, such as setting the threshold of running a minimum number of candidates in a general election. Voters should be able to direct public funding to the registered political party of their choice.
Although we have disagreed with the government’s process, in the spirit of cooperation we are pleased to make these suggestions to strengthen our election fundraising rules.
Parliamentary tradition recognizes that laws governing elections are different from regular legislation, thus requiring a special non-partisan process.
To create rules for financing political parties in Ontario, the process must be fair, open and transparent. I urge the government to work with other parties to develop standing committee rules that will not allow the government to use its majority to impose its will on committee hearings.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input.