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Questions raised about campaign finances in St. John’s municipal election

["St. John's City Hall. — file photo"]
St. John's City Hall.

Advocates call for changes after numbers released

Apparent donation limit violations, no reporting of campaign expenses and incomplete information has one group calling for changes to municipal election financing.

Campaign finance reports released on Friday afternoon show where candidates got their election finances for the September municipal election.

Among issues raised are five instances where campaign donation limits appear to have been exceeded by individuals who donated to three different campaigns.

Andy Wells’ campaign received three inappropriate donations (two of $2,500 from an individual, one of $1,500 from an individual), Tom Hann’s campaign received another of $1,500 from an individual, and Wayne Ralph’s campaign appears to have received a donation of $1,400 from Ralph himself.

The limit for campaign donations is $1,000 for individuals, and $2,000 for corporations and unions. If the reported amounts are accurate, the donations are violations of the Municipal Elections Act.

Citizens Assembly for Stronger Elections NL (CASENL) editor Rob Nolan says the violations raise concerns for his newly formed organization.

“We are already concerned with the impact one individual, corporation or union can have given the limits. What is even more concerning, there appears to be violations in which some candidates did not abide by those contribution limits,” said Nolan.

It’s unclear if there will be any consequences arising from the donations.

CASENL submitted a report on Thursday morning calling for the elimination of corporate and union donations to municipal campaigns, among other requests. The majority of candidates raised the majority of their funds through business donations. While the influence donations have is repeatedly denied by politicians, a perception still lingers in the public.

Galway developer Danny Williams, for example, gave $14,000 to 12 candidates in the election.

Elizabeth Matthews, spokesperson for Dewcor, says Williams has always supported a variety of political candidates.

“Danny has always been a strong supporter of the democratic process, including donations during election time when he has historically donated to all political parties,” Matthews said in a statement.

“During the last municipal election, he donated to most incumbent candidates, as well as to any new candidate who made a donation request.”

Williams’ 10718 NFLD Inc. is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit it filed against the city in November.

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said he doesn’t think such election contributions have any effect on the decisions of councillors, but the recommendation will be looked at by council.

Breen says there has to be a balance, given how expensive it can be to run a campaign, and he doesn’t want a situation where candidates must be wealthy to run a campaign.

“I spent $55,000. I certainly didn’t have an elaborate campaign. I had no campaign headquarters. I had no paid staff. To do a mail-out across the city is $12,000 or $13,000,” said Breen.

“I wouldn’t want to see it turn into an elitist game, where people who have access to individual funds have an advantage in a campaign.”

Expense reporting is another issue being raised by CASENL in reaction to the donation reports.

Breen, Wells and former councilor Art Puddister gave breakdowns of how their campaign finances were spent in 2017 — but that’s not something that is required by the current municipal election rules.

As it stands, there is no way to know how candidates spend their money or what they do with any money they don’t spend by the end of the campaign.

“Currently there’s no regulation in place for where the difference goes. We would like to see that regulated,” Nolan said.

“Whether it goes into city coffers or somewhere else. Right now, there’s nothing. Anything that’s not spent can just go where the candidate chooses.”
Twitter: DavidMaherNL


Total municipal election contributions received by candidate, in order of amount:

Danny Breen: $55,500

Andy Wells: $46,470

Art Puddister: $42,690

Sheilagh O’Leary: $36,319

Maggie Burton: $23,817

Ron Ellsworth: $20,575

Jonathan Galgay: $18,350

Sandy Hickman: $18,000

Dave Lane: $15,876

Ian Froude: $13,789.81

Tom Hann: $12,800

Renee Sharpe: $8,245.45

Jamie Korab: $7,995

Lou Puddister: $7,775

Hope Jamieson: $5,075

Jamie Finn: $4,635

Fraser Piccott: $4,580.14

Wally Collins: $4,450

Darrell Power: $3,500

Peter McDonald: $2,600

Deanne Stapleton: $2,400

Debbie Hanlon: $2,000

Terry Bennett: $1,642

Wayne Ralph: $1,400

Pamela Hodder: $1,000

Nadim Saqlain: $640.75
Walter Harding: $410

Derek Winsor: $250

Paul Dinn: $0

Tom Babcock: No report filed

Scott Fitzgerald: No report filed

Greg Dunne: No report filed

Mike Walsh: No report filed

Michelle Worthman: No report filed

Larry Borne: Incomplete report filed

Tracey Holmes: Incomplete report filed

Jennifer McCreath: Incomplete report filed

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