The rot of big money in Ontario politics stinks. People want action now to clean up the mess.
Comprehensive fundraising reform is essential to renewing our democracy. Instead it seems we have politicians playing political games -- to fix the political games that got us here in the first place.
The status quo parties at Queen's Park have laser-sharp focus when it comes to attacks on each other's fundraising practices. The accusations they are throwing around ask who is selling access to whom. The truth: none of the three parties at Queen's Park have a clean record on donations.
I support calls for inquiries into past practices and committees to consult the public, but I don't want these efforts to delay passing legislation to transform the system. Fixes should be in place before the 2018 provincial election.
Delay tactics like the blame game at Queen's Park are harmful. Over the past years, I've watched urgent issues fade into oblivion without change under the Liberals' watch. For example, in 2011 the Liberals were under intense pressure from opposition to the Melancthon Mega Quarry.
So they made an election promise to review the Aggregate Resources Act. But after five years of hearings, a report and more consultation, nothing has changed. Another mega quarry could be proposed. I don't want the same to happen with fundraising reform.
Big corporations and well-heeled individuals should not be able to buy access to power.
We need transformational change now to get the stink out of Queen's Park.
To start, we need to immediately eliminate corporate and union donations. Big corporations and well-heeled individuals should not be able to buy access to power. There appears to be broad consensus on this. Why wait to make it happen?
Next, Ontario needs to dramatically lower contribution limits. Immediately lowering annual contribution limits to match federal levels is a step in the right direction. This would reduce contribution limits from $9,785 to $1,500. Eventually, I would like the annual limits to be set under $1,000. In Quebec, they are $100.
The $1,500 should be a hard cap. To achieve this Ontario will need to disallow additional contributions to byelection campaigns and leadership campaigns. The premier has already hinted at her support for this, so we could move quickly on this as well.
But we can't stop there. Ontario desperately needs a comprehensive set of fundraising reforms to restore trust in the integrity of government decision making.
To create a more democratic system and get the corrosive influence of big money out of politics, we need a public financing system that is democratic.
A per-vote allowance is a more democratic form of public financing. It doesn't exclude citizens who don't have deep pockets.
After Stephen Harper cancelled the federal government's per-vote funding system, some reform advocates worry that an idea like this will not receive public support. Under the federal system, taxpayer funding was allocated to parties based on their percentage of the popular vote. The concern is that people won't support our tax dollars going to fund political parties.
But the truth is we already do. Currently, public financing is a pay-to-play model that undemocratically benefits big donors through generous tax credits. For example, a $2,500 donor will receive a refundable tax credit of approximately $1,150. Our tax dollars cover the cost of almost half of the donation.
A per-vote allowance is a more democratic form of public financing. It doesn't exclude citizens who don't have deep pockets. It's a vote-to-play system. It empowers every citizen with an opportunity to help support the party of their choice with their vote.
Even though the vast amount of money will still flow to the major parties, a per-vote allowance gives smaller parties a bigger incentive to get their vote out in order to qualify for funding. All parties have an incentive to engage voters, even in ridings where they are generally not competitive. This will enrich our democracy.
Additional reforms should include restrictions on third-party advertising, lower spending limits for parties during writ and pre-writ periods, and better disclosure and oversight rules.
Ontario's political fundraising rules need radical change. This change should not be delayed because of bickering among the status quo parties. The time to act is now.
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President Barak Obama has parlayed the star power of his Hollywood supporters into fundraising prizes this campaign season, including a dinner party with Sarah Jessica Parker for $40,000. If you don't have that much cash, $10,000 can get you the chance to shake the president's hand and pose with him for a photo.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has offered wealthy donors unusual levels of access to both himself and other Republican political stars during this campaign season, the New York Times reported. At a three-day GOP fundraising retreat in Utah earlier this summer, donors who gave $50,000 could sign up for a private seminars with GOP leaders like Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice and John McCain.
Call it the most expensive hotel in the country. At least two dozen donors who gave a $100,000 or more to President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign in 1997 were rewarded with a sleepover in one of the the White House's most historic nooks, the Lincoln Bedroom.
The ambassador to France gig has always been a tempting reward for party loyalists who give handsomely. As early as 1904, Theodore Roosevelt reportedly used the job as a carrot for helping the Bull Moose candidate raise $250,000 -- $6.4 million in today's dollars -- for his election campaign. More recently, President Bill Clinton gave the job to Democratic donor and fundraiser Pamela Harriman.
Denise Rich (pictured at right) has given generously -- at least $1 million according to Time magazine -- to various Democratic Party causes over the years. And President Bill Clinton did not forget her generosity. On his last day in office in 2001 Clinton signed off on a controversial pardon for her fugitive ex-husband. Denise Rich has since given up her American citizenship and her U.S. tax bill and moved to Europe last fall.
State politics are not immune to donor money: The Minnesota Vikings have spent an estimated $5.5 million in lobbying efforts, giving at least $115,000 to state politicians in the first five months of 2012, to ensure passage of a new $975 million stadium for the NFL team. Much of the cost to build the stadium will be funded by taxpayers.
Casino mogul and heavy-hitting Republican donor Sheldon Adelson has given at least $25 million to GOP super PACs. What's in it for him? The U.S. government is looking into whether Adelson's company has violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Macau, where the company has been accused of bribing officials and profitting from prostitution.
Between 2000 and 2008, the oil and energy industry paid nearly $400 million to lobby the federal government and more than $82 million in donations to politicians, according to PBS. They got a return on their investment: Passed under President George W. Bush, the 2005 Energy Policy Act rolled back regulations and paved the way to allow widespread fracking.
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