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Smitherman keeps donors secret while Pants and Ford let voters follow the money

Ward 27 candidates weigh in

When news broke that Xtra had posted Joe Pantalone’s and Rob Ford’s donor lists online, the Twitterverse buzzed, with many demanding George Smitherman follow suit and show voters who is bankrolling his campaign.

And political watchers on Twitter aren’t alone.

Many Ward 27 candidates at Thursday night’s All-Candidates’ Open House at the 519 Church Street Community Centre echoed similar reactions, some even going so far as to say candidates should be required to release donor lists prior to the election.

“I believe the lists should be released before voting day,” said candidate Kristyn Wong-Tam. “I’m a firm believer in tracking the money when it comes to campaign donations.”

George Smitherman told Xtra at Monday night’s mayoral debate that he has no plans to release his donor list before Oct 25 because “the list is still growing.”

“We’re still seeking contributions, so we will assemble that in compliance with the law,” he told Xtra.

Elections Toronto requires all 2010 candidates to submit a final financial report by March 25, 2011, including the names and addresses of everyone who contributed $100 or more to their campaign. Contributors’ names are posted online. The maximum donation to a mayoral candidate is $2,500.

Corporate and union donations are banned, but that’s not to say individuals associated with corporations, developers, unions, special interest groups or lobbyists can’t donate as individuals.

Pantalone released his $850,000 donor list (Joe Pantalone campaign donor list PDF) on Wednesday and Ford released his $690,000 list on Thursday. Both are under the $1.3 million limit.

Some of the notables on Pantalone’s list include Jack Layton, Olivia Chow, Sam Sniderman from Sam the Record Man, Sandra Bussin and a slew of developers, The Globe and Mail found by poring through the pages and pages of names this week.

Meanwhile Ford, who built his campaign chest with $5, $25, $50 and $100 contributions, is boasting donations (Rob Ford campaign donor list PDF) from Smitherman’s older brother Arthur Smitherman, former councillors Tony O’Donohue and Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, blogto.com found.

“There are no corporate or union donations,” Ford’s director of communications, Adrienne Batra, assured Xtra. “There is one corporate donation noted on the list, but it was rejected. It was from Underhill Landscaping for $250.”

“You know why [Smitherman] won’t release his list, right? It’s because every lobbyist in the city is on his donor list,” she said. “That’s the gravy train, baby! And George is the conductor.”

When Xtra put in another request with the Smitherman camp for his list on Thursday, campaign spokesman Stefan Baranski repeated that the list will be released after the election, but voters can trust that there’s “no corporate or union donations” on the list.

While it’s not a rule, it has become standard practice for mayoral candidates to release their lists before ballots are cast. Smitherman is the only leading mayoral candidate to keep his donor list a secret prior to voting day since the 2003 election.

David Miller and Jane Pitfield revealed their donor lists before the 2006 election. Miller, Barbara Hall and John Tory all did so in 2003.

Ward 27 candidate Chris Tindal said candidates should continue to follow tradition and release the lists before the vote.

“I actually don’t think it’s good enough to be a tradition; I think it should be the rule,” he said. “There are many other jurisdictions where candidates are required to release the list before the election, which makes sense because that’s when it actually matters.

“Once you’re elected, it’s less relevant to people that you’ve been funded by one group or another. Voters have a right to know before the election.”

If elected mayor, Ford said he will pass an amendment requiring all candidates to release their donor lists before voting day.

“It raises the question: what is George Smitherman hiding?” Ford said in a statement.

Wong-Tam said she was very careful not to accept any money from any developers or individuals profiting from land use, planning or development. And that goes for corporate lobbyists and government relations lobbying firms, she said.

“I think even the perception of money being misused or misdirected is not the way you want to run a councillor’s office,” Wong-Tam said. “Ward 27 in particular has more development coming into this ward than any other ward in the old city of Toronto. The councillor for Ward 27 should be open and transparent.”

Likewise, candidate Enza Anderson said candidates who talk the talk [about transparency] should also walk the walk.

“This is an issue of transparency,” she said. “I don’t have any big donors that I owe any favours to. All my donors are friends.”

Anderson said her campaign raised about $5,000 this election and was quick to note she came second to Kyle Rae in 2003 with a budget of $0.

“If I’m elected to city council I will do away with in-camera sessions completely,” she said. “City hall is a public domain. Let all city business happen in front of the public eye.”

Ward 27 candidate Susan Gapka wondered how much influence the donor list really has on voter choices — for mayor or council candidates.

“I’m not sure people go into detail about that. Investigative journalists do,” she said with a wry grin. “I have nothing to hide.”

Candidate Ken Chan, who did not know how much money his campaign has raised so far, sounded a lot like his former boss, Smitherman. He said compiling the donor list to release to the public is a lot of work for the campaign CFO just days before voting day.

“For me, election regulations have been clearly laid out,” he said. “And for me, the regulations are sufficient.”

Another Ward 27 candidate took a different view on the issue. Robert Meynell, who has raised about $32,000, said releasing his list of donor names and contributions could negatively impact donations for future campaigns.

“I think the principal of following the money is relevant, but the discretion of the people making the donations should be considered,” he said. “They may think twice about donating to a campaign.”