Last year Ward 6 Councilor Tom Adams donated $ 1,200 to Rob Burton’s candidacy for re-election as mayor of Oakville.
Stephanie Adams, who lives at the same address, was equally generous. She also sent Burton $ 1,200 – the maximum donation a person can make to a candidate under the Municipal Elections Act.
Ward 5 Councilor Jeff Knoll and his wife joined forces to donate $ 2,400 to Burton, as did Ward 6 Councilor Natalia Lishchyna and Taras Lishchyna.
Ward 4 councilor Peter Longo donated $ 1,200, as did April Gamache, who lives at the same address.
And in a show of mutual generosity, Rob and his wife Wendy Burton made the maximum allowable donations of $ 1,200 to Adams, Knoll, Lishchyna and Longo.
In addition to this, the Adams family and the Lishchyna family exchanged donations of $ 1,200.
All these donations are detailed in the 2018 candidates’ financial statements available to the public online.
What is the purpose of all these donation exchanges?
It turns out, however, that all of these politicians are only half as generous as they seem.
Since 2003, Oakville has offered 50 percent cash back to local voters who donate at least $ 100 to a municipal candidate’s campaign.
The program, which cost taxpayers about $ 100,000 for the 2018 election, was created on the recommendation of a citizens’ committee seeking to encourage participation in municipal politics.
Although donations to federal and provincial political parties are tax deductible, there is no tax receipt for donating money to a municipal candidate. The rebate program aims to facilitate fundraising for applicants by stimulating contributions from citizens.
But there is a catch with the program: Applicants and their spouses and family members are not eligible for reimbursement of donations to their campaigns.
But Burton can apply for a refund for the money donated to the Adams campaign. And Adams can claim a refund for the money donated to Burton’s campaign.
The gift exchange appears to offer councilors a loophole around the rules that prevent them from receiving funding for their election candidacies.
“I guess it could be seen that way,” admits Knoll, who said he and his wife had demanded reimbursement of their donations from Burton.
“I mean, the reality is that I supported (Burton), he supported me, and a number of us supported each other because we love to work together, and we wanted to see each other’s campaigns succeed. . “
Whatever the reality or perception, the discounts obtained by the mayor, these four councilors and their spouses represent more than 10% of the cost of the entire discount program in 2018.
The council votes to maintain the maximum discount
Despite this, neither Burton nor any of the councilors declared a conflict of interest when the matter was brought to council on October 18.
A report by Oakville City Clerk Vicki Tytaneck recommended that reimbursement to donors during the 2022 municipal election campaign be capped at $ 375 per contribution.
By reducing the maximum payment to $ 600, the city could save about $ 24,000, Tytaneck suggested. The savings would help cover the new anticipated costs related to the pandemic for next October’s election.
The reduction would also bring the rebates into line with most of the eight other similar programs offered by neighboring municipalities.
With little discussion, councilors rejected the change and voted unanimously for a revised motion to keep the reimbursement at the maximum of $ 600.
Adams, whose family received $ 2,400 in rebates for the 2018 contributions to Burton and Lishchyna, introduced the revised motion.
“The effect is just to bring us back to where we were in the last election, in terms of how the rebate program works, which in my opinion has worked well for the community,” he said. declared.
In an interview with Oakville News, Adams said he gave Burton money because he believed he was the best candidate for mayor. He said he and his wife had claimed a refund for the donations because “the program is open to residents and we are residents.”
Regarding the perception of the gift exchange, Adams said, “The program is designed to encourage individuals to donate, and I think it succeeds.
Finally, he stated that it was not necessary to declare a conflict of interest on the matter.
“I think if you looked, you would find that a lot of the board members made contributions, and you would have a situation where the board couldn’t make a decision,” Adams said. “There is a process in conflict of interest law that allows decision makers to make such decisions.
Knoll added that the program offers a significant fundraising advantage for candidates seeking to challenge incumbent politicians for board seats.
Burton, Lishchyna and Longo did not respond to our interview requests on this matter.
Request for access to information filed
While details of donations made to all applicants are publicly available online, the city does not offer the same level of transparency around discounts.
Presumably, Burton and his wife each received a reimbursement of $ 4,800 for their campaign contributions from their fellow advisers.
And presumably, Lishchyna, Longo, and their spouses all raised $ 600 for their donations to Burton.
But we can’t tell you for sure, as the city will not publish a list of people who have received discounts without a formal Freedom of Information request.
We have made this request and hope the city will comply with legislation that requires it to respond to FOI requests within 30 days.
The history of discounts
“The main objective of the program is to encourage participation in municipal elections by reducing the financial burden on candidates and campaign donors,” said Tytaneck’s report.
Launched in 2003, the program initially offered a flat-rate discount of $ 200 for donations. For the 2010 election, councilors voted to set reimbursement at 50 percent of contributions. At that time, the maximum contribution allowed to a candidate was $ 750.
In the last election, corporate and union donations were cut. Municipal candidates can now only receive contributions from people residing in Ontario. The maximum campaign contribution for a single candidate has been increased to $ 1,200, with a cap of $ 5,000 on the amount a person can donate to multiple candidates running for positions on the same board or school board .
Councilors approved increasing the maximum reimbursement under the program to $ 600 per contribution.
Despite the increasing cost of the Oakville taxpayer rebate program, it appears to have failed to increase the number of people contributing money to municipal campaigns.
In 2018, the city donated $ 99,948 to 292 donors. In the 2006 election, 364 donors claimed $ 25,008.