We believe that it is paramount to change the way municipal campaigns are financed. The laws regulating campaign financing in Edmonton are extremely weak and sometimes non-existent. To put it succinctly, these laws need to be improved and they need to be standardized.
Unfortunately, the adage that money equals power is fairly true concerning municipal politics. For the most part, it appears that the candidates that raise the most money usually end up winning. By endorsing candidates that believe in campaign finance reform, we hope that, if elected, they can lobby the provincial government to create stronger regulations. What we hope through campaign finance reform is to mitigate the power and influence that money has and to create a more accessible and open environment for individuals to run for council.
Notably, there already is provincial legislation put into place concerning municipal campaign financing laws. Bill 203: Local Authorities Election (Finance and Contribution Disclosure) Amendment Act was passed in 2009. The bill proposed three important reforms: 1) Donations limited to $5000. 2) A requirement that campaign surpluses should only be used for future elections or can be donated to a charity. 3) New bookkeeping rules, which required candidates to set up a banking account in their name, to keep receipts, and be subject to audit (Nenshi, 2010).
Bill 203 was a good start, but it still isn’t enough. Incumbents still hold a relatively large advantage, seeing that they can raise funds whenever they please, which means they have ample time to create a fairly large war chest for the next election (Nenshi, 2010). There also appears to be a lack of reprimanding candidates who break already existing financing laws. Unfortunately, the province does not investigate alleged funding violations. Instead, residents themselves are required to take the matter to court (Civic election campaign funding rules, 2013).
So what type of reforms would we like to be implemented? Here are some proposals that we have seen, which we have liked:
– lower the maximum campaign donation from $5000 to $1500-2000
– require that all candidates disclose their finances prior to election day
– ban corporate and union donations
– ensure that financial surpluses after the campaign are given back to the donors, to the municipality, or to a charity
– Only allow donations to be made during election years
– Limit the candidate’s spending to 50-65 cents per ward resident
There are many other proposals that we could address. Nevertheless, these are some of the few that we believe are necessary to create a more democratic, open, and accessible campaign.
Not surprising, there appears to be an abundance of cynicism towards money in politics. This cynicism could perhaps be related to the low voter turnout in previous elections. By tightening financial regulations concerning municipal campaigns, it could possibly result in the increase of confidence that citizens have in politicians.