It’s funny: I've found that, for a policy that passed the legislature unanimously, no politician seems to like Ontario's new fundraising rules.
Starting in the new year, the days of the so-called wild, wild west will come to an end, and a much stricter regime will take its place. This means MPPs have only a couple more weeks to squeeze every shekel they can out of corporations and unions. Once Jan. 1 comes along, those donations will cease to be legal. Not only that, the amount individuals can donate will decline dramatically, from $29,925 a year to $3,600.
In fact, the rules will become so strict that MPPs won’t even be able to show up at their own fundraisers, lest their appearance be somehow misconstrued as part of a cash-for-access scheme.
It’s interesting to see how Premier Kathleen Wynne has found religion on this issue. For years, she maintained that hyper-fundraising by all political parties was part of the democratic process. “The money to run a party has to come from somewhere,” she said to reporters in response to criticisms of the outgoing system.
But clearly over time she has changed her mind, and like many converts to a new religion, she is now approaching the regulation of fundraising with newfound zeal.
However, virtually every politician I’ve talked to (on background, of course) can’t stand the new rules — including Liberals. They feel the restrictions are ridiculously onerous. But no one will state this for the record because everyone wants to be on the side of the angels.
It’s certainly accurate to say the optics surrounding the old rules were terrible. Liberal cabinet ministers had fundraising quotas to meet and were certainly pressured to meet them. I’m not sure anyone would have been turfed from cabinet for failing to meet those targets, but it’s also true that no one wanted to find out what the consequences might have been for falling short.
Not only that, the prospect of the health minister beating down the doors of drug companies, or the finance minister shaking down big banks, clearly put them into what at least looked like conflicts of interest. Would any finance minister really lower the corporate tax for a multibillion-dollar bank just because that bank donated $10,000 to his or her party? It’s hard to imagine. But it’s equally hard to imagine convincing the public of that in this increasingly cynical age.
The impact of the new rules is already at hand, even though those rules aren’t yet in place: all the parties are madly scrambling to have as many fundraisers as possible before the tighter regulations come into effect.
Here’s an example of one making the rounds these days (on the left), complete with corny tag line about the premier leaving a lump of coal in your stocking.
That’s why you saw (or probably didn’t, since it was a private affair) Wynne holding a fundraiser at the LIUNA Station in Hamilton on Dec. 6. More than 400 people showed up at a cost of $300 a head.
It’s also why Ontario PC Party leader Patrick Brown has been holding multiple fundraisers daily, to erase a multimillion-dollar debt he inherited from the PCs’ last election campaign. Party stalwart John Mykytyshyn described in candid detail how Brown’s done it in a recent conversation I had with him (starting at the two-minute mark of the interview).
In the new year, the unhappiest people affiliated with politics are going to be the parties’ chief fundraisers, who will still be required to raise much of the money needed to run a good election campaign, but with one hand tied behind their backs.
Conversely, corporate executives and labour union leaders might secretly be thrilled that politicians will no longer be constantly approaching them to host fundraisers or pull out their chequebooks.
Who will step in to replace those many millions of dollars that once were privately raised? Why, you, dear taxpayer. The law will now provide for a per-vote subsidy, based on a party's results in the previous election. So next year, the Liberals will be eligible to receive more than $5 million, the PCs more than $4 million, the NDP more than $3 million, and the Greens more than $600,000, all courtesy of public financing. (The 2017 $2.71-per-vote subsidy will be gradually reduced to $2.04 by 2021, indexed to inflation). The thinking is this will prevent politicians from putting themselves into conflicts of interest to raise money, and that it will also be fairer to voters: since each party will be rewarded for past performance, and no one’s vote will “go to waste,” because even if the person you voted for doesn’t win, the party you supported will get something out of it financially.
Of course, political operatives will tell you the subsidy only covers a fraction of the money they need to run a strong campaign. Hence the gloom, despite these newfound taxpayer funds.
Only two weeks to go before the wild, wild west becomes the very sedate east.
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