Council’s Executive Standing Committee has accepted a report painting a rosy picture of compliance with the city’s campaign finance bylaws.
The committee met virtually Monday morning, with a review of its campaign finance bylaw on the agenda. That bylaw was adopted in October 2018, and had its first real test with last fall’s municipal election, held Oct. 17, 2020.
Those new campaign finance rules required candidates to file contribution statements listing donors over $50 within 60 days from the election — by the end of Dec. 16, 2020 in this case.
They also barred candidates from accepting donations from corporations or organizations, capped individual donations for council candidates at $1,000 and for mayoral candidates at $2,500, and capped total spending at $30,000 for council candidates and $300,000 for mayoral candidates.
After the campaign contribution statements were made public in January 2020, the Halifax Examiner identified numerous contraventions of the bylaw.
David Hendsbee, longtime councillor for District 2 who was re-elected in October, received a corporate donation. After the Examiner asked about it, the municipality covered it up with white-out. Steve Streatch, former councillor for District 1, also received a corporate donation. Another candidate in Hendsbee’s district received cash and in-kind donations exceeding the limit under the bylaw. And multiple candidates hadn’t filed at all when the statements were posted.
The report to council on Monday, written by municipal clerk Iain MacLean and legislative assistant Krista Vining, mentions none of that, save for an underplayed acknowledgement that candidates were late filing.
“The Clerk’s Office completed a review of candidates Campaign Statements and identified some common themes across the filings, including: missing information or formatting errors in the contribution information provided (contributors’ full name, address format contribution date); and five Candidates were late filing,” the report said.
Based on the dates on their statements posted online, the Examiner identified 11 candidates who completely missed the deadline to submit one or more of their forms: Clinton Desveaux in District 3 filed Jan. 15, 2021; Ibrahim Manna in District 4 filed Feb. 24; Bill Carr in District 9 filed Jan. 6; Mohammed Ehsan in District 10 filed March 23; in District 11, Matthew Conrad filed Mar. 16, Bruce Cooke filed Mar. 26, and Dawn Edith Penney filed Mar. 24; John Bignell in District 12 filed Jan. 25; in District 13, Tom Arnold filed Mar. 23 and Iain Taylor filed Jan. 6; and Jay Roy in District 15 filed Jan. 5.
The Examiner counted 14 other candidates who filed some or all of their statements one or more days late, but still in December, for a total of at least 25 late filings. (Due to redactions, it’s impossible to read the dates on some forms, so there could be more.)
The report said the clerk’s office is reviewing the 2020 election in preparation for 2024. It plans to revise the campaign statements, “including forms that have gone through a user accepted testing process;” confirm staffing levels for accepting the statements, “including increasing the number of Commissioners of Oaths able to take oaths and receive these Statements;” assign someone to be available to answer candidates’ questions about the forms; and revise the communications strategy around campaign statements.
There was no presentation on the matter during Monday’s meeting, and councillors had no questions for staff about the report, which was a result of the council motion adopting the new rules in 2018.
They voted to accept the review and forward it to regional council as an information report, which won’t see debate unless a councillor chooses to bring it forward.