Candidates taking different approaches to donor disclosures
Posted Aug 24, 2021 04:26:26 PM.
Last Updated Aug 25, 2021 06:19:10 AM.
CALGARY (660 NEWS) — With less than two months to go until the Calgary municipal election, there are more calls for candidates to disclose a list of donors before voters head to the polls on Oct. 18.
On Monday night, councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek took part in a Reddit AMA where people were able to pose questions to her and she would provide written responses.
But there was some anger in the thread, as a top-voted question asking if Gondek would release a list of donors remained unanswered.
“To say this is disappointing would be an understatement. If she can’t tell us who is paying her she doesn’t deserve our vote,” wrote one frustrated commenter.
Candidates in this election are not compelled to release a list of donors before election day, due to changes from the provincial government. Still, candidate Brad Field led the charge this spring calling on all candidates to be upfront with donations and maintain a regularly updated list of contributions.
Field has been doing this and it can be viewed on his website. Jan Damery has also been maintaining a list of donors, while Grace Yan has a list of supporters on her website, without dollar donation amounts.
660 NEWS reached out to Gondek’s campaign, and they said a donor list would not be coming out any time soon because of fears of harassment.
“We don’t have any intention of releasing it right now, we may release it in the last hours of the campaign. Maybe the day or the day before the actual election day,” said campaign manager Stephen Carter. “There are a number of candidates and a number of people in this campaign that are harassing and threatening to harass people involved with the municipal campaign.
“We don’t feel like putting our donors at risk is in the best interests of our campaign or in the best interest of democracy.”
Carter said some people who have been known to donate to Gondek’s campaign have already received messages criticizing them, and he does not believe this will negatively affect the image of transparency in the eyes of voters.
A pair of other high-profile councillors running for the mayor’s seat are taking a different approach. Jeromy Farkas told 660 NEWS that he will be releasing a list of donors “well in advance” of voting day.
“If you refuse to release your donors, I think that shows voters that you’re going to continue with that secrecy that’s been a problem at City Hall,” he said.
Farkas promised to have more information soon on when the list would be out, and then it would be updated as election day approaches.
Jeff Davison’s campaign said it would also be taking a similar approach.
“We will definitely be releasing our donors list ahead of election day. We would expect any serious candidate for Mayor would do the same,” read an emailed statement, with the addition that it would likely come out after the dust settles from the federal election and the list would also be regularly updated.
With several different approaches emerging to this issue, one expert said it may be better to disclose the details as soon as possible.
“Simply put, it provides more transparency and accountability,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams. “Many voters will not know who has donated to various candidate’s campaigns until after election day.”
This is due to the fact the provincial government made some changes to the election process, removing the obligation to disclose donors before voters cast a ballot. There could then be some pros and cons around getting a list out now, or waiting a bit longer.
“I think someone who’s updating their list constantly will have the benefit of looking like they’re being more transparent. They’re more open, more willing to provide information openly to voters. The other advantage of that is that if there is a donor here or there, there may not be as much scrutiny to who the donors are. It will be sort of a bigger picture that’s evolving over time,” Williams said. “Those who wait until later, closer to the election, might get more attention to their voter list which could be a good or a bad thing depending on who’s on that list.”
There are already some notable names on the lists right now, such as former MLA Bob Hawkesworth donating over a thousand dollars to Damery’s campaign, and former Calgary Flame Perry Berezan donating between $2,501 and $5,000 to Field’s campaign.
However, beyond the individual donations which can go no higher than $5,000, Williams said people should think more about third-party advertisers playing a role in the election.
This issue sparked some criticism of Davison, when it appeared his campaign was working closely with a third-party advertiser called Calgary Tomorrow. Davison vehemently denied any wrongdoing after he was questioned by the media and public.
These advertisers can take in significantly larger donations — up to $30,000 — and these disclosures will not be available until after voting day.
“So in other words, if a third party is advocating in favour of a particular candidate or even a set of candidates, where their money comes from is going to be more difficult to track and it’s going to require a bit of investigation,” Williams said.
Carter asserted that the vast majority of donations coming in for Gondek are small-dollar and many are from women or people not usually engaged in the political process, leading to their concerns about harassment. Further, he said the campaign is not associated with any third-party advertisers and does not think the choice to not disclose donors well ahead of time will affect people’s views on transparency.
“I suppose some people could try and make this an issue, but if you take a look at the leading candidates, none of them list their donors. So, when it comes down to a choice between Jyoti Gondek and Jeromy Farkas for the mayor’s chair you are going to be choosing between two campaigns that haven’t listed their donors,” Carter added.
Overall, Williams said this relates back to a growing concern across all elections nowadays as people become more attentive to who is giving money to whom, and what that may mean down the road.
“One of the questions that’s being raised currently is that it is possible for a donor or an interest of some sort to unduly influence a candidate once they are in council, and if you can see the donations before election day then that at least provides some information to allow voters to make an informed choice,” she said.
The choice to disclose donors has also been a discussion point in the councillor race, as some are being upfront by detailing donations throughout the campaign period.