Friday, September 16, 2005

Membership has its dues

From the London Free Press:

London Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen contravened Ontario's Municipal Election Act in six instances in his 2003 campaign, an audit released yesterday concluded. But the audit found none of the violations were intentional and even the man who had called for the review, an incumbent who Van Meerbergen defeated, agreed it revealed nothing warranting his removal from office. "He shouldn't be removed," former councillor Ed Corrigan said.

The audit itself cost $20,000, but the tab could grow. Some council members are calling on the city to pay Van Meerbergen's legal costs, a tab he says was about $8,000. Council voted unanimously to take no further action and Van Meerbergen later said taxpayers were most hurt by the process.
What did Van Meerbergen do wrong, one may be inclined to ask. The ready answer is that he contravened the provincial Municipal Elections Act, an offense less egregious than breaking the law, of which in Ontario there is no natural or necessary correlation with right and wrong. Of course, membership can be said to have its rewards and dues — the dues consisting apparently of itemizing real and imaginary expenses to maintain an illusion of accountability to an arbitrary threshold of pretend restraint, the rewards consisting of being able to dispose of other people's money without any restraint. But what did Van Meerbergen actually do wrong?
The audit found Van Meerbergen violated rules when he:
  • Disclosed commercial costs, but not the value of producing them at no charge, a value the auditor concluded was $350.
  • Used his garage as an office and his home phone without declaring a value, an oversight others on council committed.
  • Bought envelopes and paid for printing 680 letters without disclosing a cost of $115.
  • Listed polling expenses, but excluded them for purposes of spending limits, a practice allowed in provincial, but not municipal elections.
  • Listed campaign signs as an expense, but excluded them in an inventory of material left at the end of the campaign.
  • Accepted contributions from businesses that aren't incorporated when such businesses can only donate under an owner's name.
    [Emphases mine]
The expenses Van Meerbergen didn't record amounted to four per cent of his spending. Fully tallied, his expenses were $26,379 — well below the limit of $31,665.
The final public consumption result of the audit is that Van Meerbergen and Corrigan, and the councillors falling over themselves to extravagantly distance themselves from holding another councillor accountable, all come out looking a little foolish, and the taxpayers are on the hoof for another twenty-odd thousand dollars, a trickle in the storm sewer of municipal waste. More contentious, yet less examined, is the Municipal Elections Act itself — perverse disincentives for thriftiness are created when candidates are forced to declare "values" for free use of their own resources, such as home offices in this case, "values" being poor-man's quantitative surrogates for qualititative efforts to "level the playing field" — by qualititative, read arbitrary. Campaign finance limits exist by the assumption that people are swayed by expensive and flashy campaigns — if this is true, and I'm not arguing that it isn't, then why would you want these people voting in the first place?
Corrigan said the cost to taxpayers for the audit was money well spent. "That's the cost of maintaining the integrity of the process."
It's kind of him to let me assume the burden of his altruism, but I would ask him: the integrity of what process?

2 comments:

Ed Corrigan said...

There are a number of errors in your commentary on Paul Van Meerbergen's election expenses audit. You are correct in that the auditor found "six apparent violations," in Van Meerbergen's Election expenses reporting. The law requires full reporting and a level playing field between all parties. Just because I use facilities owned by myself or my family does not allow me to not to properly declare them. Van Meerbergen declared office expenses of $84.75 for over a 7 month campaign. I also used my own facilities but declared expenses of $350 per month for office facilities, telephone and sign storage. The most serious error in your report is your failure to note that Van Meerbergen did not declare any expense for a targeted mailing to identifed Conservatives by sending a letter written by former Conservative M.P.P. Bob Wood. Van Meerbergen publically admitted that he sent 680 such letters "to residents of Ward 7." The postage alone would cost nearly $340.00. This item was not declared as an office expense. Envelopes and coping charges would be on top of this postage cost. He reported a total office expense of $84.75. No value was also given to the London West Provincial Conservative mailing list that Van Meerbergen used. Van Meerbergen failed to disclose this expense and mailing of $680 letters. He said he forgot to expense it. This failure says a lot about Mr. Van Meerbergen. The cost of producing one 30 second T.V. comercial and three 15 second comericals was also not expensed. I defy you to get 4 T.V commericals produced for $350 which was the value given by Van Meerbergen and a quote accepted by the auditor. I received a written quote from the New PL stating that the cost of producing one 30 second commerical was between $1,000 and $2,500 dollars. The fact that Mr. Van Meerbergen's brother-in-law, who owns a advertising and printing company, and who prepared his 4 separate signs including the 4 X 8 "mini-billboard," and his 3 pieces of campaign literature was not made public. It is a reasonable question to ask if you or I would have obtained the same price and serivce for producing election campaign marterial. You should post my reply to the London Free Press to balance your commentary. However, thank you for your interest in this issue.

MapMaster said...

I appreciate your corrections, and I concede the facts as you have reported them. Your comment is duly noted and archived for any reference anyone should wish to make. However, the particulars of Van Meerbergen's violations were not the thrust of the commentary — I did not contend that Van Meerbergen did not commit legal violations but that his actions were not, well, really wrong:

More contentious, yet less examined, is the Municipal Elections Act itself — perverse disincentives for thriftiness are created when candidates are forced to declare "values" for free use of their own resources, such as home offices in this case, "values" being poor-man's quantitative surrogates for qualititative efforts to "level the playing field" — by qualititative, read arbitrary. Campaign finance limits exist by the assumption that people are swayed by expensive and flashy campaigns — if this is true, and I'm not arguing that it isn't, then why would you want these people voting in the first place?

In retrospect, and in response to your comment, the above paragraph should have included the reading of "for free use of their own and volunteered resources." But never mind… As I mentioned, the extent to which yourself, Van Meerbergen or the rest of council are or are not asses is not important — I had hoped to suggest that the law is an ass. Campaign finance laws are unnecessary, arbitrary in both limits and mechanisms for calculation, and an abridgement of freedom of speech.