Some Winnipeg mayoral candidates want to reveal donors who give less than $250

People who made Winnipeg civic campaign contributions under $250, and thought their donations would remain secret, might be in for a surprise.
People who made Winnipeg civic campaign contributions under $250, and thought their donations would remain secret, might be in for a surprise. 2:22

People who made civic campaign contributions under $250, and thought their donations would remain secret, might be in for a surprise.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Brian Bowman are emailing contributors who gave less than $250 to tell them they want the donations to be made public.

Under the current rules, candidates are only obligated to reveal donors who give $250 or more.

Another mayoral candidate, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, made full disclosure of all contributions, which has been his policy from the start of his campaign. They are posted on his website as they come in.

Mayoral candidates Judy Wasylycia-Leis, left, Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, Paula Havixbeck and Robert-Falcon Ouellette at the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ's election forum on Sept. 10. (CBC)
​Wasylycia-Leis's announcement comes a day after she laid out her plan to disclose donors.

"I've made that commitment to release the names, unveil the names of all my donors over that level of amenity of $250, a week before, as a minimum, a week before the election," she told CBC News.

A CBC News analysis shows Wasylycia-Leis was one of a handful of candidates who disclosed donors who gave less than $250 in 2010, and she said she will do it again this time.

But this time will be different. Wasylycia-Leis said she will warn donors who gave less than $250 that this information will be made public after the election.

She said the rules were not clear and that is why she disclosed donations that legally could be kept under wraps.

"The city is lacking clarity in how it is handling donations," said Wasylycia-Leis.

"We now know they are on the public record; therefore, your name will be made public. We will first, though, let you know that that is the case and we will post that information after the election, and you can be forewarned that that's the case."

She not the only one who is in the process of telling small donors their names will be made public.

Bowman decided at the beginning of August to contact all smaller donors who gave before Aug. 7. The purpose is to gain "consent so that we may publish your name along with the rest of our hard-working and generous donors."

Some gave $249 and less

A CBC analysis of 2010 election donations shows that Wasylycia-Leis named 962 donors who gave $249 and less. Many gave small amounts as little as $5.

Her average donation listed in her election documents was $156, compared to an average of $915 for current Mayor Sam Katz.

Katz did not list donations under $250 as per election rules.

Among those who gave just one dollar under the threshold of mandatory public disclosure are several high-profile businessmen in Winnipeg. True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, his brother Jeoffrey and father, Robert Chipman, all gave $249 to Wasylycia-Leis in 2010.

Developers Robert and Sandy Shindleman of Shindico also donated $249 each to her campaign. They both gave her rival, Sam Katz, $1,500.

Lorne Perrin, vice-president of park services at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, gave $249 to Wasylycia-Leis.

That $249 figure is significant, said Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

"The people who gave $249, since that is an odd figure, presumably they believe they were concealing their identity against the possibility of public disclosure," Schafer said, adding that the ability to conceal donations under $250  becomes especially problematic if a group of people from one company or family bands together to give a series of unreportable donations as individuals.

If a candidate later casts a vote in the donors' favour, then "it is known that they sponsored the candidate, then the conflict of interest — or even the corruption  the bias is revealed to everyone," Schafer said.

Wasylycia-Leis was not the only candidate who disclosed donors she did not need to reveal.

Grant Nordman, Jenny Gerbasi, Greg Littlejohn and Ross Eadie all revealed donors they were not obligated to name.

Why council candidates decided to tell all

Greg Littlejohn: "Obviously it's very important right now, given the scandals that have happened at city hall and the concern about politicians being bought. I just wanted to be open about it. I thought it was the right thing to do."

Jenny Gerbasi: "I think we should adjust our rules to make it more transparent in the future, going forward, so that it's expected that people know who is donating to which candidates. I don't see any reason to keep that information from people."

Ross Eadie: "I am an honest person. I'm very transparent. You ask me a question, I give you an answer. I have nothing to hide."

Grant Nordman: Nordman said he was unaware that he disclosed the name of donors who gave less than $250. This in spite of the fact that CBC News noted 92 donors with amounts under $250 in his audited statements that were filed with the city clerk's office.

Ouellette has harsh words for candidates who abide by the letter of election rules.

When it comes to candidates disclosing donors, he said, "if you're going to wait until the last week, or the last day, or after the election, it means you're doing a disservice to every citizen. And frankly, actually, I'm disgusted by it."

Bowman gets personal when it comes to donor transparency: "I would call upon all candidates, including Gord Steeves, to follow suit," he said.

Steeves admits he is aware his competitors are disclosing before deadline.

"They will do what they're going to do, but I'm sticking to the rules. To the letter of the law, in this," he said.

"I'll tell you … anyone who deviates from that is taking a chance."

David Sanders is also sticking to the letter of the election bylaw. He said he's unimpressed with his competitors' proactive disclosure.

"Publishing unaudited records of donations received prior to election day, when they are still permitted long after election day, hardly serves to ensure pre-election transparency." said Sanders.

"If people want to change the rules, they should do so well before an election campaign begins."

Paula Havixbeck committed to disclose all donors over $250 a week before election day. Michel Fillion did not specify his plan to make donations public.

With files from Rebecka Calderwood


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