COMMENT: Higher election contribution rebates would reduce the need for corporate donors

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the issues in the 2014 municipal election last fall was whether or not candidates should be allowed to accept corporate or union donations.  In April, city council is expected to debate a motion from Rideau-Rockliffe councillor Tobi Nussbaum to ask the province for permission to prohibit those types of contributions. 

Here’s an interesting perspective from Phil Sweetnam on the individual donor rebate program.  It was introduced over ten years ago to encourage more donations from individuals, as opposed to corporations.  The rebates are funded from the city’s reserve funds as well as surpluses from candidate campaigns.


A ban on corporate and union contributions would be made more effective by increasing rebates to encourage individual contributions.  Increased contributions from individuals would mean that candidates would not have to accept money from corporations in order to run their campaigns.

Companies can circumvent disallowing corporate donations by having corporate executives, their spouses, and even children contribute their own money. These contributors can be rewarded by generous company benefits such as tickets to sports and theatre events or travel rewards. This practice would not be as prevalent if candidates were able to fund their campaigns from a wide spectrum of citizens.

Individual contributions would increase if rebates were augmented to the level provided by Toronto. Toronto raised their limits when they banned donations from corporations. In Toronto, a 75% rebate applies up to $300 beyond which it drops to 50% rebate.

In Ottawa, for the 2014 election donors received a rebate of 50% on sums from $25 to $100, and 25% on sums from $100 to $200. The maximum rebate available was $75.

The presumption for banning corporate contributions is that large contributors gain extra influence. I have not personally experienced that. Nevertheless, one way to have electors believe that individuals have an equal voice with their municipal politicians is to have equal contributions coming from private individuals.

I predict that many electors would be prepared to make a $300 contribution, which really only costs them $75 after the rebate, to assist an associate trying for municipal office who they have seen perform well in other volunteer roles.

This change would encourage individual voters to contribute to election campaigns, thereby permitting these voters to finance a larger portion of municipal campaigns.

Phil Sweetnam is the past president (and current vice president) of the Stittsville Village Association, a long-time Ottawa developer, and has contributed to a variety of campaigns.



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