Election campaigns in Toronto’s satellite municipalities are mainly bankrolled by corporate money, most of it from the same developers responsible for cascading sprawl in the region, new research suggests.

No one thinks city councillors can be bought by a developer’s $750 campaign contribution, the maximum allowed per donor.

But Robert MacDermid, an associate professor of political science at York University who is publishing a paper on the subject today says the sheer amount of cash flowing from developers to incumbents — as opposed to coming from citizens who believe in a candidate’s platform — erodes the concept of democratic representation.

In the 905 in 2006, election winners got 54.3 per cent of their funding from developers, losers 35 per cent. In Toronto, the numbers are 12 per cent and four per cent.

Since there are no rules restricting the number of candidates to whom corporations can donate, they often do so multiple times.

MacDermid contends all that money, combined with shortcomings in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act, hinders new candidates.

“It reduces the choice that citizens actually have,” he says. “The difficulty with (a candidate) opposing development is that it’s hard to find enough money.”

There are several factors involved suggests the research. But the abysmal voter turnout, and minuscule citizen interest in municipal politics, means few people bother to donate to candidates.

As one of the few political scientists in Canada studying municipal election financing (he knows of two), MacDermid has made it his mission to lobby for reforms in the Municipal Elections Act. He’s published 10 papers on the subject.

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