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Arm’s-length committee orders audit of Ottawa councillor’s election campaign finances

Innes Ward Coun. Laura Dudas says her windows were broken in the middle of the night on Aug. 6 when someone through a rock into her living room.
Innes Ward Coun. Laura Dudas says her windows were broken in the middle of the night on Aug. 6 when someone through a rock into her living room. City of Ottawa

The arm’s-length election compliance audit committee at the City of Ottawa has ordered an audit of Coun. Laura Dudas’ 2018 campaign finances to determine whether any municipal elections laws were violated.

The committee’s decision stems from a complaint filed by an Ottawa resident who alleged the Innes Ward councillor used campaign signs from a previous election run and didn’t declare that she did, and also spent or received donations before she registered as a candidate.

READ MORE: Ottawa election results 2018

When contacted for comment on Wednesday, Dudas’ executive assistant provided a brief statement on the councillor’s behalf.

“As the process of the audit is not yet underway and complete, [Coun. Dudas] will not be providing comment on the items recommended for review by committee today,” Chelsey Wynne said via email. “She does, however, look forward to these matters being cleared up once all proceedings have finished.”
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Dudas won the race in Innes Ward on Oct. 22, 2018, with just over 41 per cent of the vote. In addition to her councillor duties, she also serves as one of three deputy mayors.

Last fall marked her second run for municipal office; she came in second place in Innes Ward in the 2014 election.

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Resident Heather Buchanan submitted an application for an audit of Dudas’ 2018 election campaign finances on June 26, 2019. The election compliance audit committee reviewed the audit request at a meeting on Wednesday.

Dudas reported on her financial statement for the 2018 election that she didn’t use any materials from a previous campaign. But Buchanan’s complaint alleged “several” of the councillor’s campaign signs from 2014 were installed on private and public property throughout the ward and were used at her end-of-campaign event.

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Buchanan also claimed Dudas held her campaign launch on the same day she filed her nomination papers in early May and questioned how the councillor had acquired T-shirts and a “professional video” before she was formally registered as a candidate.

The Municipal Elections Act forbids election candidates from accepting donations until they are registered to run.

Speaking for Dudas on Wednesday, lawyer Greg Meeds told the committee that any old campaign signs “were not placed with the knowledge of the candidate or her campaign” and the campaign removed or disposed of any that it learned about. A campaign volunteer brought signs from 2014 to decorate the bar where Dudas held her party after the polls closed, but Dudas didn’t request that and wasn’t aware of them, the committee heard.

As for the alleged campaign contributions, Meeds said Dudas did not spend money on T-shirts before her campaign began; the shirts in question were brought to her launch party by someone else and not at her request.

The video singled out in the audit request was filmed by a friend days before Dudas registered as a candidate as “a test” and she had no intention to use it for her campaign at the time, Meeds said. She decided to do so after she submitted her nomination papers and the video was later reported as a donation in kind, the committee heard.

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In a disposition released after its meeting, the committee said the audit application presented “compelling and credible information” that “raises a reasonable probability” that a breach of the Municipal Elections Act occurred, pointing specifically to the use of the election signs and the campaign video.

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The committee will appoint an auditor to scrutinize Dudas’ election campaign finances at a future meeting, elections program manager Milan Stevanovic said. In its disposition, the committee said it will “speak to the nature of the compliance audit” once an auditor is chosen.

The independent election compliance audit committee has to consider all audit requests it receives from eligible Ottawa voters regarding the election campaign finances of candidates and registered third-party advertisers.

There are five members on the committee for the 2018-22 term.