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CanadaDoug Ford’s PCs are playing fast and loose with fundraising laws

16:05  20 april  2019
16:05  20 april  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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While Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford is busy rolling back laws and exploiting loopholes to fill his PC party coffers, he’s also cashing in on weak govern There simply don’t seem to be any weaknesses in fundraising laws that Ford ’ s PCs don’t seek to exploit. Worse still, in the other cases brought to

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After co-signing a lengthy letter last month urging Elections Ontario to investigate serious concerns with political fundraising, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had to dash off yet another one this week.

The leader of the opposition asked Elections Ontario to add to her list of concerns the Progressive Conservatives’ “blatant attempt” to exceed contribution limits by continuing to use Premier Doug Ford’s leadership campaign to raise funds.

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Asking well-heeled donors to donate the legal maximum to the party and Ford’s leadership fund, as outlined in a Globe and Mail article, is essentially doubling up on individual contribution limits. Since Ford’s leadership campaign is both long over and debt-free that money, more than half a million dollars so far, by law must be transferred to the party.

All this, according to Ford, amounts to nothing more than following “the rules” and “taking an opportunity to raise some funds.”

True enough, up to a point.

But the rule allowing leadership campaigns to raise money long after they’re over was intended to clear debt, not to be used as a backdoor to raising more money for the party.

There simply don’t seem to be any weaknesses in fundraising laws that Ford’s PCs don’t seek to exploit.

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Worse still, in the other cases brought to light by the Star, Ford’s government either rolled back restrictions that were in place or created the very loophole ripe to be exploited.

Last November, the government weakened legislative reforms, unanimously passed in 2016, that banned corporate and union donations in an effort to end the discredited cash-for-access system that undermines democracy.

The government left the ban itself in place but removed the prohibition on MPPs and cabinet ministers from headlining big fundraising events. That, singlehandedly, revives the whole notion of cash-for-access.

And the government didn’t stop there.

It raised the maximum an individual can donate to a political party from $1,200 to $1,600. And it added a loophole, as one veteran Conservative fundraiser put it, big enough to “drive a Brink’s truck through.”

The government repealed the requirement of donors to certify that what they’re donating is actually their own money and not given to them by, say, their development company employer or workplace union to skirt the ban.

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Then, this past winter, Ford’s PCs set out to make the most of all these changes by holding “the biggest fundraiser Ontario has ever seen.”

Now, it is actually quite hard to sell $1,250-a-plate tickets to 3,200 regular Ontarians. For most people that sum is closer to the monthly rent or mortgage payment than what they have to spare for a rubber-chicken dinner, even if the premier is at the teleprompter. So they leaned on conservative-friendly lobbyists to reach out to conservative-friendly clients and corporations to fill tables of 10 with people who all happened to have $1,250 to spend.

And once the Star’s Robert Benzie exposed this, the media was banned from covering the premier’s speech and seeing who paid for this VIP encounter with a who’s-who of provincial power, making it all look even worse.

“Last night was incredible,” Ford said in Februray of his $4-million gala. “Nobody has ever raised as much money as we did.”

Indeed. That’s what happens when the government shapes the laws to suit its own partisan ends. But this is a dangerous path Ford’s on. Voters weren’t pleased when fundraising got out of hand under the last Liberal government and, ultimately, they won’t be any happier to see it return on his watch.

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And while Ford is busy rolling back laws and exploiting loopholes to fill his party coffers, he’s also cashing in on weak government advertising rules.

Ford has launched a taxpayer-funded campaign, including television and radio commercials, attacking Justin Trudeau’s carbon-pricing program. The government has set aside an astonishing $30 million for its multi-pronged effort — everything from a court challenge to absurd stickers on gas pumps to misleading commercials — to battle Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ahead of this fall’s federal election.

It’s a gross abuse of power and completely indefensible to use taxpayer money in this way.

That’s something the Ontario PCs used to understand.

Helpfully, then, the NDP has revived a former PC bill to end this practice by returning the auditor general’s powers to veto advertising deemed to be politically partisan.

All parties — including the governing PCs — should support that.

Beyond that, Ford needs to address the double-dipping fundraising scheme exposed this week.

While Ford maintains there’s no problem collecting donations for his long over and debt-free leadership bid, he did also say “we’re always open to reviewing stuff.”

Good — because it’s not Elections Ontario that creates the fundraising rules, it’s the provincial government.

And now that Ford’s party has exposed this loophole — by exploiting it — it’s time Premier Ford moved to close it.

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