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Backgrounder: Proposal for fundraising reform

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 08:15

Comprehensive fundraising reform is essential to renewing our democracy. It is needed to restore trust in the integrity of government decision making.

New fundraising rules should be in place before the 2018 provincial election.

The government must work with all registered political parties, Elections Ontario, experts, academics and the public to move quickly on fundraising reforms. None of us have all the answers. Working together we can transform political fundraising rules in a way that is fair, transparent and democratic. But this shouldn’t delay immediate action on several key changes.

1. End corporate and union donations to provincial political parties and for municipal campaigns.

The first and most obvious step in getting big money out of politics is to eliminate corporate and union donations to political parties. The federal government did this a decade ago.

It is past time for Ontario to follow.

The GPO supports the immediate introduction of legislation to eliminate corporate and union donations this spring and that a ban should come into effect this year.

2. Introduce per-vote funding as a more democratic way to fund political parties.

If government decisions are to be made in the public interest, then we need a democratic public financing system.

Per-vote funding of political parties is more democratic than our existing public financing system, and it is essential to getting the corrosive influence of big money out of politics.

Currently, public financing of political parties is a pay-to-play model that undemocratically benefits big donors through generous tax credits. For example, a $2,500 donor will receive a refundable tax credit of approximately $1,150. Tax dollars cover the cost of almost half of the donation.

A per-vote allowance is a more democratic form of public financing. It doesn't exclude citizens who don't have deep pockets. It's a vote-to-play system. It empowers every citizen with an opportunity to help support the party of their choice with their vote.

3. Lower annual contribution limits to match federal levels as a first step

Ontario needs to dramatically lower contribution limits. Immediately lowering annual contribution limits to match federal levels is a step in the right direction. This would reduce contribution limits from $9,785 to $1,500. Eventually, the GPO supports transitioning to individual donations that are under $1,000. In Quebec, they are $100.

4. Restrict third-party advertising during writ and pre-writ periods.

Partisan third-party ads can be used as a way for corporations, unions and other organizations to get around donations and spending limits.

There needs to be spending limits and other restrictions on third-party advertising. Such restrictions should target partisan activity and not infringe on freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has ruled on this federally, which provides a guide for us provincially.

5. Lower spending limits for political parties.

Lower spending limits would create a more even playing field for opposition parties and reduce the pressure for parties to raise large sums of money.

Lower spending limits should be established for election periods and an annual limit introduced between elections.

6. Close the loopholes that enable donors to exceed donation limits.

The large sums of additional money that parties can raise during by-elections and leadership contests makes a mockery of Ontario’s already inadequate fundraising rules.

Ontario must take immediate action to close these loopholes before the next by-election campaign.

Donations limits and spending limits should be established for party leadership campaigns.

7. Improve disclosure and oversight rules.

Stronger disclosure and oversight rules are need 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. Under this system, parties would be required to provide this information to Elections Ontario as part of their real-time disclosure requirements.

8. Establish a transparent and public process for rules on televised leader’s debates.

The televised leaders’ debates are some of the most important events of an election campaign. It is an extremely valuable source of free media for parties invited to participate and provides a huge financial advantage for participating parties.

Yet, the rules of participation are made by between a private media consortium and certain parties behind closed doors.

This is undemocratic, unfair to the public and places non-participating parties at a significant disadvantage.

A transparent, public and democratic system should be developed to determine the rules of televised leaders debates.

9. Create an open and fair process for reform.

The GPO supports immediate action to overhaul Ontario’s political fundraising rules.

We support calls for inquiries into past practices and committees to consult the public, but we don't want these efforts to delay passing legislation to transform the system. We want reforms in place before the 2018 provincial election.

The first priority must be legislative reform to clean up Ontario’s fundraising rules. 

An independent, open, transparent and fair process for reform should include all registered political parties, Elections Ontario, experts, academics and the public.  

This may require a two step process. Immediate change on reforms where there is broad consensus and special committee hearings on reforms where there is disagreement. If there is need for a two stage process, then stage two should have legislation ready for introduction by September 30, 2016. 

The government should seek all party consensus for a process of reform.

Conclusion

It is time to set aside partisan bickering and posturing to put the public good first.

The GPO is eager to work with the government and opposition parties with and without seats at Queen’s Park to get big money out of politics. We can create a fair, transparent and democratic political fundraising system.