Calgary election: Davison latest to release donor list for ‘transparency and trust’; Farkas calls it ‘laughable’

Mayoral candidates Jeff Davison (L) and Jeromy Farkas are among candidates who have published their donor lists on their websites. Global News

A Calgary mayoral candidate who has been accused of colluding with a third-party advertiser (TPA) is the latest among his peers to release a list of his donors.

Jeff Davison is also calling on other candidates to release their donor lists and to provide increased transparency regarding TPAs.

“Today is about transparency and trust, which is one of the biggest issues I’m hearing at the doors when I’m talking to Calgarians,” Davison said at his campaign headquarters on Thursday.

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“Transparency around donor lists has been the norm for decades here in Calgary when it comes to our municipal elections. All serious candidates should be releasing their donors list.”

Jan Damery, Jeromy Farkas, Brad Field and Jyoti Gondek are among the other mayor hopefuls who have disclosed their donor lists online, with donation ranges.

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Grace Yan has listed her supporters but not their range of donations.

Zane Novak said he and his team are reviewing whether or not to list donors to his campaign, citing “toxic politics” as the reason to not disclose that list until election day on Oct. 18.

“When these people donated, they weren’t told their private information would be publicized before election day, so I feel it is a violation of their privacy and safety,” Novak said in a statement to Global News.

“We are even finding hesitance with supporters in certain communities putting up campaign signs due to the volatile environment.”

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Gondek said she heard similar concerns from donors and people who were presumed to have donated to her campaign.

She also recently came under fire on a local subreddit when, in an online Q-and-A session, she didn’t say whether or not she would disclose the names of her donors.

“I had not disclosed my list simply out of responsibility to people who donated… to me,” Gondek told Global News.

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“Since that time, I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people and people came forward themselves and said, ‘I’ve donated to her campaign, and I’m good with people knowing about it.’”

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Davison said not having to release a donor list until after the election has “created a culture of secrecy in elections that doesn’t best serve Calgarians.”

He pledged campaign finance reform, if elected.

Farkas said it was “laughable” that Davison would be calling for transparency with the outgoing Ward 6 councillor being accused of colluding with the TPA Calgary Tomorrow.

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“It’s almost like their donor list is completely meaningless if the donations that they want to share will be posted on the website, but the donations that they don’t want to share will be hidden in some secret third-party PAC (political action committee),” Farkas said.

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Mount Royal University associate professor Lori Williams said disclosing a donor list can boost a candidate’s reputation.

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“Voters who want to make an informed decision want to have some idea of who is involved in or supporting the candidacy of different candidates,” Williams told Global News. “So these candidates that are voluntarily disclosing are looking like they are more accountable, more transparent, more democratically open and willing to provide answers to voters.”

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Williams said the lack of obligation for candidates to reveal their donor lists before the election has been identified as a “major flaw” of recent changes to election legislation.

“I think it’s important that disclosures are made and that candidates say, ‘Look, I am not for sale. I am not going to return particular kinds of votes simply because somebody donated to my campaign.’ That’s an easier argument to make if there’s a broad range of donors in one’s campaign.”

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Three’s a crowd

Davison’s campaign has twice been accused of violating the Local Authorities Election Act by Damery’s campaign.

In June, the complaint surrounded a golf fundraiser that appeared to be soliciting corporate donations for Davison by Calgary Tomorrow.

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On Thursday, Damery’s campaign filed another complaint to Elections Alberta, alleging that Davison’s campaign signage and literature was being provided as an in-kind contribution by Calgary Tomorrow.

Whether or not complaints spur investigations isn’t normally communicated by the elections commissioner.

Davison maintained that he has not communicated with the registered TPA and said election law makes it difficult for mayoral candidates to distance themselves from endorsements.

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“I do believe that all TPAs should disclose who they’re supporting,” Davison said. “And likewise, all candidates should be disclosing who’s supporting them.”

Any third party purchasing advertising for or against candidates or issues must register with Elections Calgary, but public disclosure of those groups is left to their discretion.

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But groups putting out editorial content, interviews, columns or sharing political views on unpaid internet and social media posts do not have to register as a TPA.

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Global News reached out to all TPAs that appear on the Elections Calgary website but are not focused on a sole plebiscite issue — fluoridation — to ask about their donor lists, which candidates they would be advertising for and which candidates they would be advertising against.

Calgary’s Future posted its donor list on the Elections Calgary website and has openly endorsed nine ward candidates.

Look Forward has endorsed 11 ward candidates but has not disclosed its donors.

“Our supporters are Calgarians from all walks of life, and many are wary of the negative attention and attacks that come with having their names publicized,” Pete Meadows, Look Forward’s executive director, said in a statement.

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Responsible Representation Political Action Committee has also endorsed ward candidates and is still deciding whether to disclose its donor lists but said it is open to doing so.

Calgary Tomorrow appears to be the lone TPA to have endorsed a mayoral candidate — Davison — but did not respond to an inquiry about other candidates it is endorsing or its donor list by press time.

–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News

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