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Monday, October 09, 2006

Nondisclosure is a Betrayal of the Public's Trust

I have just had my fears about who is behind the Ted Morton Campaign confirmed. Today's Globe and Mail story has the telling quote that donor information is just too strategic to let people know about. Here is what a Morton campaign organizer is reported to have said:

“It's a strategic thing. That gives too much away,” Sam Armstrong, a campaign organizer for leadership hopeful Ted Morton, explained when asked why his camp has decided that it won't disclose names of contributors.

Obviously we will not get to know the Morton donors and ignorance is not bliss...especially in this case. My instincts tell me he is afraid to reveal his donors because they are an array of extremists groups that would scare us away from him. Remember how "scary" Harper was in the 2004 election when the religious far right was visible and vocal in supporting him? They kept quiet in the 2006 election and Harper was less scary. Harper became the temporary PM but his revival of the CPC anti social agenda and recent mean spriited grant cutting is starting to scare us all over again.

To be fair, Morton is not the only concern. I think we citizens have cause for concern about every candidate and the facts about their campaign contributors. Since there are no rules it is a chance for some candidates to raise the ethical bar of disclosure and challange the others to do the same.

We have to wonder if Dinning has too much money ($3m estimated and not denied) and is it collected from a few powerful forces so that he can effectively buy the leadership. Here is what the G&M says about Dinning's donors:

"He has said his campaign will voluntarily follow provincial election rules, and disclose all donors after the election. Mr. Dinning's campaign also will not accept anonymous donations or money from any individual or corporation that totals more than $30,000."

That $30K plus level of anonymity does not reassure me. So for a kicker of $29,999.99 I can stay off the radar screen. Can my kids and numbered companies under my control do the same thing? Too Volpe-esque for my liking. Just because you can do something clever to support Jim does not mean you ought to do it. That reliance on elites is the nature of the uncertainty about how Dinning will govern - for the benefit of the anonymous elites or the rest of us schmucks.

Oberg is already over the ethical line - just not the legal line - with his cozy "long term relationship" with certain trade union bosses and their top down membership "giveaway" tactics. That says everything we need to know about how he will govern. Top down, special deals for friends of long term relationships and what ever means that are available but only to the ends that Oberg personally identifies. Kind of like George W Bush don't you think? I can't help but wonder who will be the "Alberta Haliburton" - overcharging us for infrastructure projects with an exclusive inside "bidding" track in an Oberg government.

Norris' disclosure underscored fears of is he his "own" man or is he an "owned" by the 100 or so "clients" cum donors who are "buying" Norris' "consulting services." Who will he be "working for" as Premier - us or them? We citizens should not have to be asking ourselves that question! Again doing something indirectly you can't do directly shows a penchant for situational ethics - a real shortcoming and brings into question about how he would govern.

Others are very late into the game like Stelmach and Hancock because they played by the rules and timing that Premier Klein set out. That respect for the Party and the Klein leadership has hurt them and now they have to play catch up in the campaign fund raising function. That is no excuse however for not disclosing donors!

Others are either vanity candidates or issues based with no intention of winning just positioning or proselytizing. Who supports them dollar-wise is of less interest but the duty to disclosure demands are still the same.

Disclosure is more than information. It goes to the very character of the candidates. I think those who deny to disclose, display disrespect for the duty to disclose by being obtuse about it or those who are simply too naive about the consequences all need to feared as leadership hopefuls.
Nondisclosue is not justified as just clever politics and acceptable because it is simply playing by the nonexistant "rules." It is a betrayal of the public's trust and ought to be enough to disqualify anyone as a serious candidate worthy of such high office.

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:26 pm

    The key to disclosure is that it's done "pre-vote," such that the voters have full information prior to casting their vote.

    Strange that you would suggest that Norris' disclosure raises ethical questions about how he would govern. What about the rest? He at least has told us who is going to have influence over his government, the rest have not.

    Norris needs to release an update sooner rather than later, and needs to disclose his minor donors (less thank 10K), but compared the rest he's by far the most transparent.

    If I recall, Hancock was very wishy-washy as to whether he was going to disclose at all. He said something like he'd see what the rest decided to do. Way to show leadership Dave!

    But then again, it might prove embarrasing for a few candidates to have to disclose. What does it say about your ability to win when you disclose that you have no donors.

    Regardless, good post on transparency. Individual members need to put more focus on this issue, otherwise it might just fade into the night.

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  2. I agree - pre-vote is the only time disclosure is of any real value in candidate evaluation. Norris is to be complemented for sure for that -but where are the updates on disclosure? Has he quit rasing money?

    Even if a candidate indicates the number of anonymous donors and how much each has contributed would be information that could beused to make a judgement call about suitability of a candidate.

    As for no donors - it would not bother me. It my say you can't raise third party money or you choose not to - or something in between. Using your own money exclusively is not a bad thing for democracy - you do need a lot of it though - just ask Perot, Forbes and Bloomberg.

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  3. Judith Dyck7:05 pm

    The grammar police might have something to say about the sentence in the Globe and Mail and ensuing lack of clarity, but here's the goods from the Dinning campaign. In the absence of rules, Jim Dinning has set firm limits. It's not anonymous up to $30,000. For the record, it’s no donations over 30K. And no anonymous donations. Doesn't matter the amount. So the Dinning campaign will record your name even if you keep that penny and only give $29,999.99.

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  4. Anonymous10:09 pm

    What do you as a candidate do if a donor wishes to give money, but does not want his/her name disclosed? Hypothetically, a donor may have given money to Jim D early (remember, he's been raising money for quite a while), then later wishes to give money to another candidate - off the record, because on the record he/she is supporting Jim and for business/social reasons does not want to be seen supporting someone else.

    Just as there are anonymous bloggers, there are anonymous donors. If the donor gave money in good faith on the understanding that their name not be made public, how can the candidate go back on that agreement? Yes, in a perfect world, all of the candidates would have had equal access to funds, and so could return the donation to the donor who wished to be anonymous. But reality intrudes here - I would think most campaigns need every dollar that comes in.

    And therein lies the rub: where is the greater good served, when you have one or maybe two very well-financed campaigns that can control the message, with other possibly better candidates that can't afford to "pay to play"? I'm just posing the question - I do not believe I have the answer.

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  5. To anonymous re early donations accepted on the condition of anonymity...you honour the commitment but htt does not mean you can;t say as part of disclousre say: "received from anonymous donor $30,000.00" (hypothetically for the purposes of example.) Be sure to give the amount of each donation and show the number of them - do not aggregate them. That is useful informatoin to me - why is this many people doing this anonymously for this candidate at the worst... and at best who cares that many for that amount...my call as a citizen...and I get to decided how I want to respond to the facts.

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  6. Anonymous8:15 am

    Ken,
    I agree. Number of donors and individual amounts are very valuable.

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