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CBC Ottawa

Taylor calls for spending cap

The ol' in-box was bursting at the seams this morning. Most of the correspondence is from candidates. Mayoral hopeful Charlie Taylor is charged up about the donation rebate. It's an issue that doesn't get a lot of attention, but Taylor thinks it's time it did. He wants to cap mayoral fundraising at $20,000, and limit ward candidates to $5,000. In Taylor's own words:

Most Ottawa residents aren't aware that campaign contributions are eligible for up to a 75 per cent refund from the City. That means a mayoral candidate who spends the limit on his campaign, around $400,000, is actually costing taxpayers as much as $300,000.

This puts taxpayers in the peculiar situation of being forced to pay for their own brainwashing, says mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor.

Spending limits for municipal elections need to be severely curbed in order to ease the taxpayer's burden, and make the election process more democratic, says Taylor.

The fact is very few candidates will come anywhere close to their limit. Most campaign expenditures will be measured in hundreds, not thousands. Those who do build up a war chest undoubtedly have an advantage over their opponents. But they've also worked harder to organize their campaigns and raise the money, so perhaps the advantage is deserved. Taylor continues:

Not only is it unethical to use such large sums of money from the public purse in order to inundate the electorate with propaganda, it is actually counter to the public good, says Taylor.

A candidate who accepts $400,000 worth of donations will likely owe more allegiance to his donors than the electorate making it impossible for him to govern objectively, says Taylor.

That's not an original idea, but it's one that seems to be gathering steam, particularly when Lansdowne Park comes up in debates. We won't get to see who donated to the candidates until they file their papers well after the election. Even then, donors sometimes appear as numbered companies, or filter donations through friends, family and employees. At any rate, most incumbents and serious candidates are against the idea of banning corporate donations. Even if they were for it, the rules governing municipal elections fall under provincial legislation. It's not going to happen. Taylor has more to say:

Also, because media outlets depend on advertising for revenue, there might be a tendency among the media to give preferential coverage to candidates with larger campaign funds in order to encourage political advertising. If the media bills certain candidates as front-runners and fails to cover others, the front-runner status eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are lots of things that may influence media coverage, but I can guarantee ad spending isn't one of them. Revenue from a 30-second ad spot isn't going to make or break CTV or CFRA. If we in the media are billing certain candidates as front-runners, it's because we've seen the polls. Of course, you can argue that public opinion polls are influenced by what respondents have read, seen and heard in the media. There's really no end to the debate, but if Taylor is suggesting candidates with deep pockets are buying favourable media coverage, he's way off base.

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