Ottawa gives money a megaphone – Metro US

Ottawa gives money a megaphone

The day before city council voted to enter negotiations on the Lansdowne Live stadium proposal, gadfly-in-residence Clive Doucet urged his fellow councillors, in the interests of transparency, to declare any campaign contributions they had accepted from the proponents.

Orleans Coun. Bob Monette denounced Doucet for “grandstanding” and took offence at the suggestion any councillor’s vote could be influenced by the developers’ money. No voluntary disclosures were forthcoming.

Any donation to a municipal candidate over $100 is technically public information, but the City of Ottawa doesn’t make donor lists available online, as Elections Canada does for federal campaigns. Anyone who’s curious must drop by the city’s elections office and view the lists, or pay for copies. So the information is available, if not particularly accessible. Money’s a touchy subject.

Coun. Alex Cullen has crunched donor data to produce post-election reports in which he argues the city’s campaign finance regulations are overdue for reform, a ban on corporate and union donations in particular.

“Businesses are not philanthropic enterprises: They contribute based on their self interest or, at best, as a form of investment,” Cullen wrote in his 2003 report.

Politicians always deny campaign contributions influence them, and the companies coughing up the cash invariably claim to be simply “participating in the democratic process,” but it is hardly a coincidence these companies do business with the city and rely on council decisions. Primarily, they are in real estate development, construction, waste management, taxis and the like.

Corporate and union donations have been eliminated at the federal level, but not in Ottawa, where contributions from a fairly small group of companies accounted for 30 per cent of campaigns for council seats in 2006, according to Cullen.

Most of the corporate money goes to incumbents, and in the past two elections, every single one has been re-elected.

Money talks, but Ottawa’s rules give it a megaphone.

And as far as Coun. Doucet’s concerns go, one of the principals of the Lansdowne Live team is John Ruddy, president of Trinity Development Group, which is identified in Cullen’s last report as one of the city’s big electoral spenders.

Trinity gave a total of $11,000 to 15 candidates in the 2006 election, including $750 to Coun. Monette.

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