Local media coverage this week on escalating municipal campaign spending, highlights for me a troubling trend. As a result, I believe that we need greater public scrutiny over candidate spending and how municipal campaigns are financed.It’s disconcerting to see precedent-setting spending levels across the region, creating potential barriers for ordinary citizens who want to run for public office. How campaigns are funded also raises important questions about impartiality and independence.
Therefore, all campaign donations, regardless of their source, type or amount, should be disclosed, including contributions from elector organizations.A few years ago, the Province struck a Task Force to look at some of these issues with a view to reforming the municipal election process, including rules around campaign spending. Despite strong feedback from the public, elected officials and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) that called for greater transparency and public accountability, it seems the Province never acted on Task Force findings.But there is an option that I feel merits consideration. Cap local election campaign spending, based on a percentage of the stipend for each elected position.For example, if you are running for the Mayor’s job and the annual stipend for that position is $40,000, then your campaign spending limit is capped at 10% or 20% of the stipend; you get the picture.Some will argue that by capping campaign election expenses, candidates running in larger communities could be at a financial disadvantage; the bigger the community, the greater the cost to run.I know that municipal election campaign financing (spending and donating), in some communities, seems to be taking on a “war chest” quality reminiscent of the party system. I believe this approach threatens a disservice to voters, candidates and local governments and should be avoided.In the end, often the best and most effective approach to local election campaigning can cost the individual candidate the least. For just the price of a good pair of walking shoes, going door-to-door to meet and engage voters on their doorstep can have the greatest reward of all.