Putting a Lid on Municipal Election Campaign Spending Needed
Local election campaign spending is back in the news again, with the release this week by Elections BC, of candidates’ campaign spending. The recurring theme is that as spending continues to go up, the ability of ordinary citizens to participate (especially young people), goes down. Raising sufficient funds to mount a viable campaign is becoming a real issue for many communities and residents. Are we trending toward U.S.-style politics? Let’s hope not.
Below are three previous articles expressing my concerns about municipal campaign spending and what I see as the need for a spending cap. I wanted to re-publish these articles for readers who may share my concerns. As you know if you have visited Elections BC’s website in recent days, campaign election expenses incurred by each candidate across BC has now been released. Of note are election expenses here in the Capital Region and in Vancouver and Surrey.
Is it time that the provincial government takes the bold step of capping local election campaign expenses? I think so and, who knows, taking a step to curb spending on local election campaigns might just set a new trend that rubs off on provincial and federal election campaign spending. Wouldn’t that be good for elections, candidates, the public and our democracy?
- Local Election Expense Limits — Province Releases Report
Posted December 29, 2014
In case you missed it, a Provincial all-party Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits released its long-awaited report on December 15, 2014.
As stated in the press release, “the report contains results of the Committee’s public consultation on principles to guide the relationship between elector organizations and their endorsed candidates related to expense limits, and principles for establishing expense limits for third party advertisers. Over 900 submissions were received.”
While this report represents significant work and will help to inform development of future legislation on local election expense limits, this is only the first shoe to drop. The Committee will begin phase 2 of its deliberations in 2015 related to expense limit amounts for local elections, a long-standing concern of mine. As we know, campaign expenses have continued to escalate. I ran my first campaign in a bid for a municipal Councillor position in 2002, in a community with a population of about 11,000. I spent approximately $2,600 at that time and over the past 12 years and 5 campaigns later, my own campaign expenses have climbed every election, to a peak of over $10,000 in 2014 to fund a Mayor’s campaign in a community with a population of about 18,000.
My concerns about local election campaign funding and spending focus on the reality that money becomes a real barrier to ordinary citizens who want to run for local office. The playing field is not level unless reasonable spending limits are placed across the board on election campaign expenses. One’s ability to raise funds should not be the determining factor to one’s ability to participate as a candidate in a local election. Campaign funding and spending raise important questions for all communities about equity, equality and public access to running for public office, as well as related questions about a candidate’s impartiality and independence once he or she is elected.
As I did in previous years, I was asked to participate in the public consultation process for this current report and some of my comments appear on page 9. In my full submission, I went on to suggest a funding formula to guide campaign spending and funding, based on a percentage of the salary or stipend amount for each elected position. For example, if the annual salary or stipend for a Councillor position is $14,000, then candidates who are running for this particular office can spend no more on their election campaign than a percentage of $14,000. What that percentage is would be determined by the Province and integrated with legislation that governs the role of Elections BC.
I commend the Provincial Government for taking on this issue and I look forward to the results of their ongoing deliberations and work in 2015. To read the current report in its entirety, please visit the following link: http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/leel/
- Legislative Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits
Posted November 29, 2014
As a candidate in a local election, I was pleased to recently participate in phase one of the Legislative Special Committee on Local Elections Expense Limits online survey.
The work of this Committee is significant in my view and highlights my ongoing concern about local election campaign spending.
In the last decade, I have observed that the costs of running local election campaigns have continued to escalate, to the point where campaign spending may now be a real barrier to ordinary citizens who want to run for local office. Since there are no existing spending limits for these campaigns, the temptation for endorsements by elector organizations and third party advertisers is difficult to overcome when candidates are attempting to defray campaign costs. As an example, I ran my first municipal election campaign in 2002 and spent approximately $2,000. Over the course of five campaigns (four for Councillor and one for Mayor), my expenses continued to climb, peaking at over $10,000 for my 2014 Mayor’s campaign.
It is worth noting that all of my campaigns occurred in two municipalities with populations of less than 20,000. I did not at any time accept monetary donations from elector organizations or third party advertisers and relied solely on individual campaign donations from family, friends and community supporters. At the end of each campaign, I was fortunate that I had enough personal financial resources to cover and balance final campaign expense shortfalls — not everyone who runs a local election campaign has this same advantage or access to personal funds.
Elector organizations and third party advertisers who include monetary donations with their endorsement can be problematic for candidates and can lead to questions from the public about a candidate’s ability to remain fully independent and impartial when discharging their responsibilities as local decision-makers. Are there expectations and “strings attached” to endorsed and funded candidates who are successfully elected? Not an entirely unreasonable question in my view. Without local election campaign spending limits, I also think that the proliferation of slates creates another challenge for candidates and communities, raising similar questions about a candidate’s independence and impartiality. Slates, while not uncommon and often created to defray campaign spending, can also suggest to voters that block voting is the risk if the slate is elected.
Among my comments to the Committee, I suggest campaign spending limits based on a percentage of the individual stipend or salary designated to each Councillor, Mayor or Regional Director position. The stipend or salary is fixed in a local bylaw and can only change with a full Council resolution so are always subject to public scrutiny and accountability. I believe that this approach to campaign spending also provides ahead of time, key financial planning information to all individuals who consider running for public office and levels the playing field for all candidates who do run. I strongly believe that the viability of a candidate should not be based simply on one’s ability to raise money to fund an election campaign; rather, the quality, merit and integrity of a candidate should be the qualifiers when electing a local representative. Naive and idealistic? Perhaps, but I stand by this belief.
Local election campaign spending limits are long overdue in British Columbia and I hope that the Committee will move forward quickly to address this issue, one that has implications for local governments, communities and yes, local democracy.
- Put a Lid on Municipal Election Expenses — My View
Posted March 24, 2012
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 doorsteps can have the greatest reward of all.