by Binnu Jeyakumar, Sustainable Calgary volunteer
Sustainable Calgary polled all candidates who had declared their candidacy prior to nomination day, regarding their commitment to campaign funding transparency. 35% of those polled committed to releasing data on the contributors and contributions on their websites.
Candidates who committed to release their data included: Gian-Carlo Carra, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Bernie Dowhan, Druh Farrell, Adam Frisch, Chris Harper, Michael Hartford, Shawn Kao, Jordan Katz, Shane Keating, Gail MacLeod, James Maxim, Joylin Nodwell, Judi Vanderbrink, and Evan Woolley.
The disclosure of campaign finances in municipal elections is regulated by the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA). Currently the act:
- requires disclosures statements to be submitted 5 months after the election
- exempts self-funded candidates (who can spend up to $10,000) from submitting disclosure statements
- does not require or provide for the auditing of the statements
- does not regulate third party organizations that advertise for the candidates
- does not clearly define several terms in the disclosure statement, leaving them to be interpreted by the candidates themselves
While the post-election disclosure requirement aids in transparency, disclosing campaign funding information prior to the elections is a more effective method of holding candidates accountable and keeping a check on undue influences from major contributors in city politics. It is also an excellent means to engage voters and increase informed voting.
Yet another issue is the format in which the information is disclosed. Current disclosure statements are in pdf format files that are not conducive to open data analysis. Compared to the campaign finance data in New York, Calgary’s requirements fall woefully short.
Civic Camp’s Citizen’s Information Guide Group is working on promoting campaign funding transparency and has analyzed the 2010 campaign data, with the help of crowdsourcing volunteers, to provide some insights into the sources and amounts of funding for different candidates.
Best Practices in New York City
New York City has an independent city agency, the NYC Campaign Finance Board, whose mandate includes providing campaign finance information to the public. It has an online searchable database of all contributions reported by the candidates. Open data sets are also available.
- They require candidates to disclose campaign finance reports prior to the election, in addition to the post-election reporting requirements. There are bi-annual disclosure deadlines, and for contributions/expenditures over a certain amount there are daily disclosure requirements in the two weeks before the election.
- It requires greater details of the contributors (depending on the amount contributed), including name of employer, affiliation for contributors that classify as “single source”, and whether the contributor has any dealings with the city.
- The board audits the reports submitted.
- Candidates who fail to submit the reports are listed on the website and may be subject to financial penalties.
Thanks all for tuning in and look for more on the State of our City 2013 this weekend!