Will federal Ethics Commissioner enforce federal ethics rule that prohibits politicians from accepting gifts that might influence them – and rule that donations at private fundraising events are illegal gifts?
Ethics Commissioner must also investigate and publicly disclose identities of all who have donated at the exclusive events, and must monitor all policy-making processes that affect the donors to ensure no preferential treatment occurs
Federal government must also make same world-leading changes to political donations laws as Quebec made in 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Trudeau to enforce the rule in his Open and Accountable Government code for ministers that prohibits ministers from fundraising from department stakeholders. The rules are in Annex B and state:
“Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should ensure that the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target:
– departmental stakeholders, or
– other lobbyists and employees of lobbying firms.”
“Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.”
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is scheduled to attend a $500-a-ticket private, exclusive fundraising event at a law firm in Toronto on Thursday. This event clearly violates the rules in Prime Minister Trudeau’s code. Will he enforce his own rules?
Democracy Watch also called on federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to do her job properly, finally, by issuing a ruling prohibiting politicians from taking part in private, exclusive fundraising events because they violate the rules in the Conflict of Interest Act (subsection 11(1)) and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (subsection 14(1)) that prohibit federal ministers and MPs from accepting gifts or other benefits “that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence” them. Section 16 of the Act also states public office holders can’t “personally solicit funds from any person or organization if it would place the public office holder in a conflict of interest.
As well, the federal Ethics Commissioner must investigate how many private, exclusive high-priced events have occurred since July 2007 when the Conflict of Interest Act came into force. There is no limitation period on violations of the Act, and so the Commissioner should investigate and obtain and release the list of donors to all the events that have happened, and also investigate and monitor all policy-making processes that affect the donors to ensure no preferential treatment occurs (preferential treatment is illegal under section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act).
“Big donations made at private fundraising events where the politician is essentially selling access to themselves are a clear violation of federal ethics rules that prohibit ministers and MPs from accepting gifts or benefits that might influence them,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor and LL.M. candidate at the University of Ottawa. “If Ethics Commissioner Dawson doesn’t issue a ruling that these unethical fundraising events are illegal, and investigate all such events in recent years, she will not only be negligently ignoring the law she will also be approving corrupting relationships between donors and politicians.”
Democracy Watch is not claiming that all fundraising events are illegal — just high-priced, private, exclusive events where politicians sell access to themselves in return for a donation, as the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have recently revealed are happening frequently in Ontario and B.C. (and they happen across the country at all levels of government). Low-priced, large, public events at which no one gets special access to the politician are clearly legal under the conflict-of-interest rules because the donation is not made to gain access to the politician.
While the donations for a high-priced, private, exclusive event go to a party or riding association, access to the politician is part of the ticket price for these exclusive events (which connects the donation to their position as a politician); the politician takes part in directing the spending of the money (as the party leader or local politician for the riding association), and; at least some of the donated money is spent on the politician’s re-election campaign. As a result, the politician is receiving part of a donation made because the politician attended an event – and therefore the politician is receiving an illegal gift.
“Any politician who claims that the donations are funneled to a party or riding association before they are used for the politician’s election campaign, and therefore selling access to themselves is fine, is hiding behind an unethical façade,” said Conacher. “If Ethics Commissioner Dawson has integrity she will end this unethical charade by issuing a ruling that exclusive, high-priced fundraising events violate the federal ethics rule that prohibits politicians from accepting gifts that could influence them.”
Democracy Watch also called on federal parties to make the same world-leading changes to the federal political donation system as Quebec made in 2013, along with other key changes.
While the federal government banned corporate and union donations, it still allows undemocratically high donations that only wealthy people can afford ($1,525 annually to each party, and another $1,525 combined total to each party’s riding associations). As Quebec’s corruption scandal showed, these high donation limits facilitate corporations and unions funneling donations through their executives and/or employees. Few have been charged in its corruption scandal even though an Elections Quebec audit found $12.8 million in likely funneled donations from 2006-2011.
“Any political party that refuses to support these changes is essentially admitting they are up for sale and that they approve of the corrupt best-government-money-can-buy approach to politics,” said Conacher.
The key changes that to democratize the federal political finance systems are as follows:
- a limit on annual donations by individuals to each party of $100-200 annually (Quebec’s limit is $100) with donations routed through the election watchdog agency (as in Quebec);
- a prohibition on loans to political parties, riding associations and candidates, except from a public fund (with loans limited to the average annual amount of donations received during the previous two years);
- a limit on spending by nomination race and party leadership candidates;
- if an election is held on the fixed election date, a limit on paid issue and campaign advertising spending by individuals and third party interest groups during the 4-month period before election day;
- disclosure of amounts spent by individuals and third party interest groups on issue campaigns in between elections, and disclosure of the source of their funding;
- disclosure of all donations and gifts of money, property, services and volunteer labour given to any party, riding association, politician, nomination race, election or party leadership candidate, including the identity of the donor’s employer, and board and executive affiliations (and the identity of organizers of any fundraising event);
- a base amount of annual public funding for parties based on each vote received during the last election (no more than $1 per vote, with a portion required to be shared with riding associations);
- annual public funding for parties matching the first $100,000-$200,000 raised (as in Quebec);
- public funding for candidates matching the first $20,000 raised (as in Quebec), and;
- a requirement that election, donation and ethics watchdogs conduct and release the results of annual random audits to ensure everyone is following all the rules.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179