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The Death Of Political Fundraising In Ontario (And My Social Life)

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The Ontario Liberal government has introduced legislation that will ban corporate, union and association political contributions and impose lower limits on those made by individuals.

These proposed changes come after much media and opposition party criticism of the current system that some consider gives unfair advantage to those with deep pockets. They also claim there is a direct link between making donations and policy and financial asks. Numerous examples have been dragged out as exhibits of these alleged "crimes" against democracy.

While none of them have been proven to be the smoking gun of corruption, the current bagman regime has received the death sentence.

Ironically, the opposition Progressive Conservatives and NDP have stood up in the Legislature and given media interviews on the sin of fundraising while at the same time... fundraising. Do as I say, not as I do!

I am agnostic about this fundraising issue. In many ways, Ontario's current system works. All donations are made public. There are limits to how much each organization can give. Lobby rules require advocates to disclose their activities on a public registry. It is far less underground than people think.

What is problematic, however, and what has caused the controversy, is how aggressive some fundraisers have become and how much is being asked from anyone interacting with government, thus the implied link to government favours.

Tickets to fundraising events can run anywhere from $250 (rare) to well over $1,000 (increasingly common) per ticket. Worse still, often these events are marketed as providing exclusive access to Members of Provincial Parliament and Cabinet Ministers. The more money associated with a Minister's portfolio, the bigger the ticket price.

The ministries of Finance and Energy, for example, command big dollars. Pity the ministers of Community and Social Services or of Children and Youth Services where most stakeholders either have little money or are not permitted to give.

Each minister has been given a cash target that, in part depends on his or her portfolio. This has been subject of more controversy. As well, opposition leaders expect bigger donations than backbenchers.

The result is that us lobbyists often feel like we are being hounded by bill collectors during prime fundraising season, sometimes receiving numerous calls each week hounding us to buy tickets or, better yet, sell, sell, sell, to our clients.

So, why am I agnostic rather than outraged about all of this?

For starters, I think the real issue is not organizational donations versus individuals. In either case, donations are made public. Most events are not held in secret, albeit the higher priced ones are marketed as "exclusive." Even with that, if you are willing to pay, they are not hard to find. The problem is the level of aggression that all parties hit when in a selling mode (see reference to bill collectors above).

For those of us for whom fundraising is part of our jobs, the current system also provides consistency and predictability. We know that during the season about three nights of the week from 5:30 to 8 p.m. will be spent at receptions drinking inexpensive wine and beer while noshing on finger foods.

Sad to say, it is a key part of some of our social lives. What will we do without them? And can our wives, husbands, partners, significant others stand to have us at home for all those evenings?

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