Corporate campaign donation rules need reform, say observers

Election financial returns

Individuals closely tied to the Richcraft company donated over $11,500 to municipal candidates in 2014, in addition to $4,500 in corporate contributions made by the company itself.

While no election rules were broken, two municipal observers say that these contributions demonstrate that corporations have an unfair advantage over individuals in election campaigns.

“In a democratic system everyone has the right to vote and to support the candidate of their choice through their own personal resources (within limits set by law),” says former Bay Ward councillor Alex Cullen. 

“When people who control corporations and unions use these resources to augment their personal choices then this is undemocratic, as it is only a small elite who are able to do this. Couple this with the obvious self-interest of corporations who do business at City Hall then you have a badly-tilting election playing field,” he says.

Donations to municipal election candidates are reported as either “personal” or “corporate”.  Any person or corporation can donate a maximum of $750 to any one candidate, and up to $5,000 in total for all candidates across the city.  Based on data compiled by OttWatch.ca from 2014 election finance returns, land developer Richcraft made $4,500 in corporate donations to 15 different candidates.

In addition, Richcraft president Kris Singhal made donations totalling $1,250 to two candidates including Mayor Jim Watson. His wife Manju Singhal donated $2,250 to four candidates.  Two of their daughters, Angela Singhal and Monica Singhal, who also both work for Richcraft, donated $3,500 and $3,000 respectively to candidates. (See a summary here…)

“Mr. Singhal has a right to contribute, but Richcraft does not,” says Cullen. “In 2010 Krishnan Singhal, his wife Manju and his daughter Angela Singhal wrote ten personal cheques worth $6,200 to municipal candidates, and another eight more cheques worth $4,450 came from two of the Richcraft companies. Together that was 18 cheques worth $10,650 written by the Singhals and their companies going to 14 candidates. And this is not an isolated example.”

Cullen recently wrote about a similar situation with the Maholtra family, who own Claridge Homes.  In 2010, they made personal and corporate donations totalling nearly $15,000.

(Editor’s note: Phone calls and emails to Richcraft and to various members of the Singhal family were either not answered or not returned.  Monica Singhal was the only one who responded; she said had no comment to make at this time.)

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An individual named Shane Paulin made personal donations of $4,500 to eight different candidates in 2014.  Paulin worked as a leasing and property manager with Richcraft at the time of the election campaign, but is no longer employed by the company.

“There was no rhyme or reason to be honest with you. In working with my former company we got to deal with a lot of them, and I just believed in their campaigns,” he says.

He says he met some of the candidates at events, but did not know them personally. He also says that Richcraft did not ask or encourage employees to make donations to municipal campaigns.

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Kevin O’Donnell, who runs OttWatch.ca, also believes that corporate donations should be eliminated, but that developers and their families should be allowed to contribute to campaigns.

“I’m only concerned with donations directly from corporations, and to a lesser extent, unions. While I think it’s poor optics for candidates to accept donations from people who are associated with the development industry I don’t think there should be any rules prohibiting it. For starters, rules banning donations from ‘natural persons’ to candidates based on their job would not stand up to a charter challenge,” says O’Donnell.

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Qadri had three donations of $500 each from Manju, Angela, and Monica Singhal, and another $500 from Paulin.

“As these donations were received by the campaign on personal cheques we treated them as personal donations, as we treated all other personal donations. We did receive some developer’s corporate cheques as donations and returned them all,” Qadri said via email.

He said nine cheques representing $5,100 in developer contributions were returned, but declined to say which developers.

“Sorry I am not at liberty to provide company names,” he wrote in an email.

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March 27 was the deadline for candidates in last fall’s municipal election to file their campaign financial statements.  The statements break down what each candidate spent to get elected, and lists individual and corporate donors who made a contribution of more than $100.

Here are copies the financial statements filed by Stittsville’s candidates:

  • Shad Qadri ($19,958.43 in campaign contributions; $20,297.19 in expenses)
  • David Lee ($5,331.00 in contributions; $4,328.57 in expenses)
  • Darren Wood (His return has no expenses or donations listed. He dropped out of the Stittsville Ward race and ran for mayor instead.)

The maximum any of the candidates could have spent in Stittsville (Ward 6) was $21,548.65, although some expenses such auditing fees don’t count towards that limit. The biggest campaign expense for both candidates was signs. Lee spent $1,636 and Qadri spent $5,774.

Lee’s return lists no contributions from corporations or unions; Qadri’s lists two: Ottawa Senators Hockey Club Capital Sports and Entertainment Inc. for $300; and Bradley’s Insurance for $500. Senators president Cyril Leeder made a personal donation to Qadri’s campaign of $510.

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O’Donnell has a few ideas for improving transparency and fairness for campaign donations. He believes contributions should be made public during the election, rather than months later.

“For starters I would require candidates to publish their donor list in real-time, or at least at a fixed time before election day.  Anyone who has concerns that a candidate is accepting too much money from a certain class of donors (developers, the taxi industry, etc) can make an informed choice at that point,” he says.

Some of O’Donnell’s additional concerns are outlined in a letter to MPP Yasir Naqvi. Read it here…

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You can search the OttWatch.ca campaign donation database here…

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Should developers and corporations be allowed to contribute to campaigns?  How can the process be improved?  Add your comments below or email feedback@stittsvillecentral.ca

 


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