Your coverage this week on municipal election campaign spending underscores what I have been concerned about for years: escalating trends in campaign costs and the need for greater public scrutiny about how municipal campaigns are financed.
It’s troubling to see precedent-setting campaign spending levels across the region, compared to 10 years ago, making it impossible for some to even think about running in local elections. Public and private sector sources of local election campaign funding also raise important questions about impartiality and independence.
I expressed similar concerns to a provincial government task force struck a few years ago to examine local and municipal election processes, including campaign financing. Unfortunately, despite a strong response from B.C. residents, elected officials and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities calling on the province for greater transparency, public accountability and campaign spending limits, the province has yet to act on these findings or recommendations.
Municipal election campaign financing involves three important issues – transparency, public accountability and equal access for all citizens who choose to run for public office. When seeking and taking campaign donations, either from individuals or electoral organizations, candidates should disclose all contributions, regardless of their source, type or amount.
Nor should there be financial barriers to a citizen’s ability to participate as a candidate in our municipal and local government elections.
One option could be a cap on local election campaign spending, at a fixed percentage of the stipend amount for each elected position. For example, if the mayor’s position has an annual stipend of $40,000, then the candidate’s election campaign spending could be capped at 10 per cent or 20 per cent of that stipend amount and so on; you get the picture.
But you will also get the argument (I happen to disagree) that by capping local election campaign expenses, it would deny candidates the ability to promote themselves through advertising, signage and brochures.
Since local government is closest to its constituents, I think the best and cheapest election campaign expense should involve old-fashioned door-knocking, meeting, looking straight in the eye and talking with voters on their doorsteps, which would cost little more than the price of a good pair of walking shoes. I urge the Province to act on recommendations submitted to them nearly three years ago about the importance of more closely regulating municipal election spending and campaign financing.
Oak Bay Councillor