Tuesday, March 6, 2012

LEGAL OR ILLEGAL? ...Or Simply Give It Back?

Ontario Court of Justice David Harris on Thursday February 9th 2012 stated, “I find no reason to interfere in any way with the decision.” The decision he was referring to was originally made by the Niagara Compliance Audit Committee that reviewed the illegal contributions made to candidates during the 2010 Municipal Elections in St. Catharines. At the time the audit committee decided it would serve no purpose to pursue individual audits for four candidates for illegal contributions received, citing it would cause a financial burden on the City as the candidates returned the over-payments. The request for the Niagara Compliance Audit Committee hearing was filed by a former regional councillor Eleanor Lancaster. There were three articles published on this issue in Mayorgate questioning illegal contributions, Candidate 'Double-Dipping' Campaign Funds, Double-Dipping Part Two and Selective Justice = Blind Justice.

Judge Harris in his decision makes it clear that the Municipal Elections Act is far more strict on the contributor than the candidate receiving the contribution. He said that the contributor is in “clear contravention of the Act” if he makes more than the allowable maximum of $750.00. But the candidate is deemed safe and not in contravention of the Act if the candidate promptly returns the over-contributions. So according to Judge Harris' interpretation of the Act the one with the hand-out who takes the money he is safe as long as he returns it when caught.

This decision by Judge Harris prompted a response from Eleanor Lancaster as reported by Doug Herod of The Standard, (Judge agrees candidates didn't violate Elections Act, Feb. 10, 2012). “This just says to any candidates, load up your coffers with whatever corporations or companies want to make sure you get elected, and if nobody catches you, well fine. And if you do get caught, you can pay it back after the fact and you're off scot-free.” It is easy to understand Lancaster's disappointment at the decision made by Judge Harris in this instance.

Yet the whole issue of illegal contributions and the decision by Eleanor Lancaster to be selective as to who should face the public hearing by the compliance committee was questioned here in Mayorgate. It was Lancaster who reviewed the declarations by candidates and decided that the one with the most illegal contributions she was going to permit to pass, or as she referred in her comment after Judge Harris' decision, “you're off scot-free.” Who in this world gave Eleanor Lancaster the right to be judge and jury? How did Eleanor Lancaster find the ego big enough to make the decision for the law itself?

Eleanor Lancaster said that Mayor Brian McMullan had a seat that was virtually uncontested so she decided, yes she decided, not to challenge his illegal contributions. Eleanor Lancaster decided that the one candidate with the most illegal contributions and even one who had contributions without contact names listed was o.k. to pass by. A candidate who was not even elected, Eleanor Lancaster attacked. Somehow Eleanor Lancaster's self-appointed judgeship of the law is very questionable. Nothing Eleanor Lancaster said or did because of this holds much credibility. Mayor Brian McMullan on his part never once acknowledged the illegal contributions after the Lancaster absolution, and would only refer to his campaign auditor. McMullan's arrogance was disturbing.

In the end Judge Harris decided that the Municipal Elections Act allowed for candidates to simply refund illegal contributions and walk away without consequence. He saw that the contributor was at legal fault and the true demon. After all Adam and Eve were only the weak victims without dignity who fell into the charms and temptation of the devil. Guilty of only the original sin, wanting to be politicians. After all it was ex-mayor of St. Catharines and now regional councillor Tim Rigby who mused as to the value of a politician's soul. In ordinary words Tim Rigby said that $750.00 wasn't enough to buy a politician. I guess that's why the multiples of $750.00?

Mayorgate brought forward the point that the contributor was the real trail to follow in two articles, 'Double Dipping Part Two' and 'Selective Justice = Blind Justice'. Questions were raised why would a contributor find the need to provide more than the allowable maximum contribution to a candidate. Why did Len Pennachetti need to give Mayor Brian McMullan $750.00 twice (you see Councillor Tim Rigby multiples!)? The same could be asked of Tom Rankin and Angelo Nitsopolous. Was it simply Brian McMullan's charm and personality that was dazzling at the time?

One contributor stood out of the crowd as an over-giving Santa . Dan Raseta even bragged in an interview with a reporter from The Standard. Mr. Raseta claimed that it was his pride in the community that was the driving motivation for his generosity and nothing else. Being in business in this area had nothing to do with anything? The Standard reporter, Matthew Van Dongen wrote this in his article. “This is our way of participating in the democratic process” in the early part of 2010. “Raseta sees no issue with donating through various companies.” Then he quoted Dan Raseta as saying, It's not unfair, because those are the rules. We're very passionate about our community, so this is our way of participating in the democratic process. I would encourage anyone who feels the same way about their community to do the same.Well Mr. Dan Raseta it is not exactly how the rules set it out. By the way by making that comment it would be fair to assume that Mr. Raseta supposedly looked at the rules? Why else would he say that?

The “rules” as set out by Judge Harris make it clear that Dan Raseta intentionally breached the Municipal Elections Act. The penalty for such a breach clear and simple and I quote from the Act now:

Any person who contravenes the Act is liable to a fine of up to $25,000.00
and or up to six months imprisonment if the offence was committed
knowingly. The fine for corporations and trade unions is increased to

It is hard for Dan Raseta to claim he did not know what he was doing with his public brag, “It's not unfair, because those are the rules.”

Yes Judge Harris is correct in saying the Municipal Elections Act states that a contributor “shall not” give more than the maximum of $750.00 and that it is a “clear contravention of the Act.” But Judge Harris left out this piece from the Act itself. Below where it lists the penalties for Corporations/Trade Unions and Individual Contributors there is a listing for Candidates. This I quote again from the Act: “All of the above individual penalties plus the forfeiture of office if the offence was committed knowingly.” Possibly Judge Harris was not comfortable with this as a fact of the Act? How does the candidate who had multiple illegal contributions claim not to know what was happening? After all that candidate is asking the people to trust him to act on their behalf and be part of the operating government! If he is that clueless on finances for himself then we are in real trouble when he has to administer our combined finances?

Nothing at all made any sense in the whole issue of illegal campaign funds. True we have legislation, law in fact, in the Municipal Elections Act. It is a set of guidelines that are expected to be followed by all equally. Eleanor Lancaster decided that one did not have to follow the law and in her decision that he would be allowed to break the law without consequence. Mind you it was Eleanor Lancaster who made that decision, not the law itself. She chose to be judge and jury on this issue. Then a judge makes a decision that candidates being only victims are not responsible and should not face any consequence.

Canada has slipped down a dangerous slope of hypocrisy that should be alarming to all. We have been able to hold our heads high and point fingers at the American system of elections. It has been seen as big dollars virtually buying public office, where good ordinary people were out of the running from the very start of a race. Dollars are only relative to each and every individual situation, where $750.00 can't buy you a seat at a convention, elsewhere it may be able to buy a soul. Our federal politics is drowning in cries of corruption with 'robo calls'. Claims of unfair influence and unfair play. On the provincial side our very own elected representative in St. Catharines is pushing the democracy card in this whirlwind of accusations. Yet as a minister responsible to enforce legislation he ignored corruption even when hard evidence was provided. On the municipal level what more can be said. Illegal contributions, local police used to tamper with evidence and a local newspaper nothing more than a public relation's tool to lie about the truth.

So where do we stand? The quick sand is of our doing. That sinking feeling is simply because as Canadians we have allowed this to happen. Even when we know all the facts we still only stand there and sink deeper. Isn't our Canada worth more than this?

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