Legal proceedings launched against Coun. Laura Dudas
Election compliance audit committee was uncomfortable with campaign finances
Ottawa's election compliance audit committee has decided to start legal proceedings against Coun. Laura Dudas after an external audit found a number of areas of "apparent non-compliance" in her 2018 campaign expenses.
"The apparent contraventions are too numerous and give the committee concern that the values of public accountability and transparency have not been respected during Ms. Dudas's campaign," according to the committee's decision, read into the record by member Catherine Bergeron on Tuesday.
"The apparent contraventions of this number are inconsistent with the maintenance of public confidence and the maintenance of the electoral process."
But that doesn't mean that the first-term Innes councillor is necessarily heading to court. Instead, the city will now hire an outside lawyer to assess the material — including the auditor's investigation and documents provided by Dudas and her lawyer — who will then use their discretion over whether to move ahead.
Complaints over signs, T-shirts
In July, the committee decided to audit Dudas's campaign finances after Heather Buchanan, who lives in Innes ward, filed the complaint accusing Dudas of spending or receiving campaign contributions before joining the race on May 4, 2018. Candidates cannot "incur" any expenses before officially filing to run.
The complaint said purple campaign T-shirts and a professional video were ready on the same day as her campaign launch.
Buchanan also complained Dudas wrongly reported that she hadn't re-used election signs from her unsuccessful 2014 campaign.
Dudas has explained that the T-shirts were brought to her campaign launch by someone who had a business selling T-shirts as a way to drum up business, and were not ordered by her or her campaign. Dudas also said she and her campaign did not know 2014 signs were being used and that when they became aware of that fact, they tried to remove the old signs.
As for the video, Dudas said the video had been recorded by a friend who makes videos as a hobby and later gave it a financial value of $800.
WATCH: Audit committee launches legal proceedings against Coun. Laura Dudas
Audit found 4 potential problems
However, the auditors from Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, who interviewed Dudas and others involved in the campaign, concluded that there were four areas of "apparent non-compliance" with the councillor's expenses.
It their report, the auditors stated that there was evidence that signs from the 2014 campaign — when Dudas ran unsuccessfully against Jody Mitic — were used in the 2018 campaign.
And an interview with one of the campaign managers suggests that the T-shirts in questions were ordered ahead of the launch, and that a student volunteer was helping with the graphic design. However, the invoice for the T-shirts is dated May 31.
As for the video, it appears that Dudas contacted the videographer, who"was under the impression that the video would be used for the campaign" and that there would be no compensation, according to the audit report.
The video was produced on May 2, and was online on May 4, which is the day Dudas declared her nomination. Even though the videographer was not paid, the auditors observed that it could be viewed as incurring an expense before nomination day.
The auditors also found other minor-seeming problems, including a contribution and a bank fee not properly recorded — worth a total of $29.05 — and some missing or illegible receipts for contributions for Dudas or her husband totalling $302.85.
Dudas, who declined to speak after the decision, has said she and her lawyer have provided the committee with all receipts.