CALGARY (660 NEWS) — The influence of third-party advertisers and corporate donations have long been a point of contention during elections, and it is coming up for discussion ahead of Calgary’s municipal vote as well.
It is surrounding the campaign of Ward 6 Councillor Jeff Davison, who is seeking the top spot in city hall as mayor in the Oct. 18 election.
Reports recently surfaced about Davison’s campaign sending out an email promoting a fundraising event, and then a third-party advertiser called Calgary Tomorrow sent out a nearly identical message promoting the same event.
It is possible that this is a violation of election laws, because advertisers cannot support a specific candidate. Some people are also concerned because these advertisers can take in a lot more money and solicit donations from corporations as well.
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When asked about the issue on Monday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it could be extremely troubling if the allegations are true.
“It’s deeply problematic if in fact that is what’s happening,” he said. “They are a violation of the spirit of the law, as well as potentially a violation of the law itself.”
Davison’s camp has denied any wrongdoing, and a spokesperson for the campaign said a press conference is planned for Wednesday where this matter may be discussed.
At this point, with the legality and accuracy of the report remains in question, it can still reflect poorly on Davison’s campaign.
“This is, for many people, the first thing that they really know about Jeff Davison and it’s potentially going to do a lot of damage to his campaign,” said Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.
She said the money can go a long way towards securing more votes, and also creates an unfair advantage over candidates that do not have the same corporate influence or money to utilize these advertisers in the first place.
A formal investigation has not yet begun on the matter, but it revives arguments around corporate influence or so-called dark money going into politics.
“What does that mean for the candidate’s ability to just sort of decide issues on the merits of those issues? Would they then be beholden to those who donated large sums of money? Would there be an expectation of a favourable decision, let’s say for a developer or something like that,” Williams said.
As the details continue to be worked out, Nenshi harnessed his three terms of experience in the mayor’s chair to point out this could be an important litmus test.
“In this job, you’ve got to have a moral compass, you’ve got to have a true north. Because things will land on you every single day that will test your ethical fibre,” he said.
“It’s about doing what’s right. And if you’re more focused on getting money for your campaign than you are on following the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, then I really have to question where that moral compass is.”
Nenshi also laid some blame on the provincial government which rewrote some election laws recently, and this could add to some confusion around the matter.
Williams agreed that could be the case, but it would be different if it is true that the campaign is working directly with the third-party advertiser.
“But all of that said, I don’t think it’s unclear that third-party advertisers are supposed to be at a distance from candidates and that third parties have potential sources of funds that are not available to candidates.”