Nova Scotia

Halifax campaign finance reform top of mind ahead of fall election

Several municipal election candidates running in Dartmouth are trying to avoid perceived conflicts of interest, all while trying to raise campaign cash.

Dartmouth Centre candidate Tim Rissesco says he'll reject any offers of donations from developers

Several election candidates running in Dartmouth say they'll turn down donations from members of the development community. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Several candidates running in this fall's Halifax Regional Municipality election are pledging to reject offers of campaign donations from developers ahead of expected changes to financing rules.

Tim Rissesco, who's running to replace veteran councillor Gloria McCluskey in District 5 Dartmouth Centre, set limits for his campaign in a Facebook announcement

He said he'll only accept donations of up to $500 from businesses or individuals, up to $1,000 from one household and will reject donations from "individuals or companies known to be directly connected to the development community."

"Councillors sit in judgement sometimes of proposed development agreements," Rissesco told CBC News. "You don't want to give anyone the impression that your decision might be flavoured in some way by who gave to your municipal campaign."

Council candidate Tim Rissesco announced on Facebook he would limit his election contributions. (Tim Rissesco/Facebook)

He said he'll post contributions as they come in on his website, instead of waiting to report them after the election concludes.

Self-financing 'challenging'

The municipality has asked the province to review campaign finance rules, but a timeline for any changes is unclear. For now, there are few limits on how much of whose money candidates can take.

In the 2012 municipal election, elected candidates received almost one-third of their financing from the development community, a CBC Nova Scotia Investigation found.

Some jurisdictions have banned development-related donations all together, but some councillors here say they worry they'd have trouble raising enough money. For example, of Bill Karsten's $4,925 raised last election, 72 per cent was from such companies.

Adam Bowes is a candidate running for Dartmouth Centre. (Adam Bowes/Facebook)

Adam Bowes, also running for Dartmouth Centre, said he wanted to run despite knowing fundraising can be hard.

"I know that campaigns sort of, to some extent, can live and die by their finances," he said. "I'm realizing that ... to self-finance will be challenging. I'll do it if I have to."

Bowes said he hasn't ruled out donations — from any industry — to fund print products and events to engage voters. He said all donations, including from individuals or other businesses, have potential for conflict of interest, so he's working through how to manage that.

'Need some ground rules'

Last fall, the provincial government amended the Municipal Elections Act to make disclosure of all campaign donations public. Previously, donations under $50 stayed anonymous.

Tim Rissesco is a candidate running for Dartmouth Centre. (Tim Rissesco/Facebook)

"I think we do need some ground rules about disclosure and probably about limits," said Rissesco, who currently works as the executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission.

"Developers, they're city builders. I have a lot of respect for developers ... I think there's other ways they can contribute money to municipal life."

Developer cash ban 'admirable'

Warren Wesson is a candidate running for Dartmouth Centre. (Warren Wesson/Facebook)

Warren Wesson, another candidate for Dartmouth Centre, called Rissesco's announcement "admirable." Wesson said he also will reject offers of developer money.

"[Accepting] would be very inappropriate," he said.

"A lot of mistrust gets built up with politicians because a lot of people just figure that council is in the pocket of developers. I think I hear that a lot over the years."

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