If a reader or a councillor doesn’t believe that campaign donations are influential, relevant, or worthy of public scrutiny, they are free to advocate to repeal or remove campaign finance legislation and should make that view known. Given the fact that near universal disclosure requirements exist in most democratic countries, public consensus generally indicates there is a relationship between money, power, and influence.
Beyond the money, the value in the donation from a big developer or construction company isn’t only the financial contribution, it’s receiving permission to put up your campaign signs on their properties – this could be lots, commercial spaces, or construction sites – these are tremendously valuable contributions to name recognition and getting the campaign message out.
Generally speaking, before a decision, which councillors have received donations from a project proponent? Given the recent amendments by the UCP, If a councillor or mayor is already raising money for the next election (2025), how are they proactively disclosing their donors that could be perceived to influence a 2023 decision?
Limited public scrutiny
Postmedia pulled together a lengthy article about the donations candidates pro-actively disclosed prior to the election (pro-active disclosure was not a requirement for the 2021 election). However it was slightly limited because at the time of writing, “Four of Edmonton’s 12 city councillors haven’t released their donor lists”.
Open Data: Useable formatting
Earlier this year, I advocated to the Electoral Officer to make available the last three elections of campaign contributions in an open data .xls format here: https://data.edmonton.ca. You can now search and review the campaign contributors by company or by name here: They have always been available, but they used to be in handwritten PDFs which were sometimes very hard to read or cross reference against other datasets.
We know who the lobbyists are at the provincial and federal government and generally what changes they are lobbying for.
Following the January 2022 Qualico pedway debate reconsideration, Public Interest Alberta shared following about the need for public disclosure:
"We need to know who has access to our Council and senior administration and who may be influencing their decisions and recommendations. We heard today from Councillor Tim Cartmell, for example, that he received several phone calls from individuals who were concerned about the risk of this decision being reversed. Who were they? What did they discuss, specifically? We don’t know. Right now, the City of Edmonton has no lobbyist registry so we have no idea who is meeting with Council and Administration and what their meetings are regarding. Please ask your Councillor to commit to public disclosure of which lobbyists they are meeting with and for what purpose."
Lobbyist Registry, not only for Elected Officials but for Administration
Administration lobbying is covered under lobbyist registries at other orders of government. Procedural fairness and transparency are two values that I believe many of us share. In this case, since this is an administrative recommendation to proceed with a sole-source contract, have the proponents advocated to administration for a sole source contract? Were there calls to the city manager or to city staff?
I think there's a reasonable public expectation of communication and engagement, but without disclosure or transparency, who is the arbitrator of the reasonability of requested concessions?
Third party lobbyists
How are these to be considered? For example, during the reconsideration of the Qualico Pedway, the Chamber of Commerce wrote to the City Council lobbying on behalf of the Qualico Pedway. We also received a joint lobby letter from UDI, BOMA, NAIOP and the Chamber of Commerce. According to the NAOIP page, Qualico were “prestige club” sponsors of NAIOP and LEDCOR are "President’s club" sponsors.
Councillor Stevenson articulated her concerns to Postmedia as: “concerned about the city providing a significant private subsidy when they don’t have certainty around Qualico completing the later phases of the development. Qualico did not answer Postmedia’s questions about why the city should pay for the pedway and what direct benefits the public will receive. Ledcor did not respond to a request for comment.”
- How do we balance being “business friendly” or “open for business” while providing procedural fairness, transparency and protecting the public interest?
- Should we change our policy so that the applicants for a sole-source contract or a policy change with a financial benefit must disclose in the council report any campaign donations they have made to the Mayor or Councillors in the past elections?
- Should administration reports require an annotation of what lobbyists sought influence on the item and from whom?
- Should members of administration be attending events outside of business hours with industry groups?
Do we need a cooling off period for Councillors once they leave office such as exists at the Provincial or Federal Government?
As always, I welcome your feedback as to policy improvements and recommendations to protect the public interest. Thank you for reading. My third favourite quote related to public transparency is “Democracy dies in Darkness”.