Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stephen Turner: candidate for special interest subsidies

According to the London Free Press, ward six candidate and Imagine London member Stephen Turner is proposing that the next city council partially rebate donations to municipal candidates from individual donors — "but not corporations…"

Such an incentive would help level a playing field Turner says is dominated by corporate dollars.

In the 2003 civic election, corporations or people associated with them gave $220,000 to winning candidates — nearly four times as much as the $60,000 given by individuals, said Turner […]

"There's skepticism city hall is beholden to business issues. If we can change that ratio (of donations), perhaps we can show city hall is working on behalf of the people," he said yesterday.
Given recent increases in taxes, program spending and development charges for commercial development, along with pesticide bans, zoning restrictions, heritage laws, bureaucratic obstacles and legal costs associated with building permit and zoning change applications, and resistance to municipal contracting out of services, it would be hard to argue that business is getting much of a return on its investment in London. It would be nearer the truth to say that by donating to candidates business is trying to purchase back some of its right to do business with its own property in opposition to other special interest groups either trying to bribe bureaucrats and politicians against it, or in those positions of power themselves. In other words, the "problem" reinforced by Turner and the London Free Press is only one of perception.

As always, the left — Turner is implicitly endorsed by NDP MP Irene Mathyssen — tries to cure a perception instead of a problem… by creating another problem. In this case, Turner is advocating that taxpayers be forced to subsidize political beliefs that they do not hold by rebating from municipal revenues donations to candidates whom they do not support. However orthodox these abrogations of free speech are becoming in this country, subsidizations of influence peddling, whether of individuals, corporations or unions, do nothing to curb the growing traction of special interests in the political process. If business, to take only the most maligned example, has something it can buy from politicians, should it not be asked what the politicians have to sell and why? That politicians have appropriated for themselves control over almost every aspect and disposal of private interest and property makes the reciprocal purchase of or cajoling for some return of that control as a favour inevitable. As a proponent — and indeed a jealous coveter — of political control over private property, Turner joins a long list of politicians who find it more politically useful to loudly divert attention to the symptoms of corruption or influence because it allows politicians to simultaneously protect their privileges of granting favours and at the same time exempt themselves from blame for its causes. Turner's proposal is simply an attempt to substitute one special interest with another more disposed to the sentimental proposition that they have entitlement to other people's possessions. For trying to pull the wool over voters' eyes and advocating that they pay for the privilege, Turner emphatically disqualifies himself for consideration as a candidate opposed to special interests.

See also Developers contributing to municipal candidates … so what?

14 comments:

Stephen Turner said...

Thank you for addressing my proposal, Mapmaster. I would hope you might consider the proposal in it's entire context rather than view it through the Lippmann 'psuedo-reality' trap.

Donor rebates are not new and exist at the provincial and federal levels. Businesses and unions would not be prohibited from donating to election campaigns, they would just not qualify for a rebate. The cost is negligible as elections occur every four years.

The article in the Free Press addressed one of five points I propose to increase accountability at City Hall. And you're right, Mapmaster, we must treat not only the symptoms but also the cause. That's why I propose to ensure all votes are recorded by councillor and issue, implement a lobbyist registry, hold regular 'town hall' meetings and appoint a watchdog to investigate potential conflicts of interest.

Feel free to check out the platform here

Pietr said...

Ah,yes.
The Lippman Trap.

Anonymous said...

As Stephen is one of the "Imagine London candidates" he as already lost my vote. This self appointed group seems determined to take over City Hall this year. This is like the fox guarding the henhouse as far as I am concerned.

MapMaster said...

Thank you for responding, Stephen, but in any context at all tax-funded rebates to individuals, or anyone at all, for campaign donations compel involuntary speech by forcing people to support ideas with which they disagree — as morally repugnant as suppressing speech — regardless of how negligible the cost may be or how entrenched the programs are in other levels of government. Moreover, it does nothing to "increase accountability" either by itself or in the context of your other proposals. At best it provides specific incentives for other special interests to compete with other more politically maligned interests. However, special interests — whether of the sort you approve of or not — will still influence the decision-making of politicians and bureaucrats because its exercise of and its authority over private property and interests is almost completely arbitrary. Should you propose to address this underlying problem, I would be most happy to hear from your campaign.

I do quite agree with your proposal to record all votes by councillor, but in all fairness neither this nor your other proposals treat the cause. A lobbyist registry certainly only treats the symptoms. Why are there lobbyists? Simply because the city has its fingers in every nook and cranny of the economy — lobbyists and donations are the necessary and inevitable outputs of an artifical market in political discretion over other people's property. A lobbyist registry, town hall meetings, and a conflict-of-interest watchdog are only populist window dressings over the real problem and may be actually counter-productive because they serve to disguise the real source of corruption and influence peddling.

Joe Molnar said...

Well said Mapmaster!
Sadly, London appears to be in dire need of another daily newspaper with a conservative point of view.
London City council and the FP enjoy a sisterly relationship that doesn't entail serious dirty public laundry airing. Consequently inept councillors get free passes.
'East of Adelaide London Fog' would be my submission for a fresh conservative/ libertarian new newspaper for London to counter balance LFP lefty editorial mush.
And brash editorial staff to back it up!

Stephen Turner said...

And thanks for your response, Mapmaster. I proposed these steps in an attempt to address the issue. They are by no means exhaustive nor will they, in themselves, resolve the issue. I would certainly entertain other measures that would aid in creating a more transparent and accountable process and I appreciate the opportunity to have a productive discussion on this topic.

Ultimately, the level of accountability in elected government is a direct function of the integrety of each individual elected official. As such, the most direct - and most difficult - way to increase accountability is to elect representatives who will carry out their job with the utmost integrity. How do we know who those people are and, once in office, do we recognize their integrety despite our disagreement with thier political ideology?

I genuinely wish to properly address accountability at City Hall and would be very interested to hear your suggestions and those of your readers on how we might best accomplish this.

Bob Howard said...

And still I sit here with my hands on my head wondering when in the world do we start making sense of this? As always I see nothing but proposals on proposals, or how to create a bigger bureaucracy 101. As always these advocacy groups and like minded individuals have nothing but the greatest of intentions and ideas, or so they hope. But, never have I seen one placed before the public that was actually thought through on how to actually implement them and what if possible would be the cost of doing so. As for lobbyists? What would one call Sam Trosow, Sean Hurley, Imagine London? Shall we start the registry with them? Town Hall Meetings, like the one that was used to form Imagine London and I quote 'Imagine London is formed and organizes invitation only public meeting for the purpose of offering a citizens proposal on the governance issue.
'. I'm sorry yet again head in my hands wondering Invitation only/public meeting? Is this the type of integrity we need, where one can participate publicly but only if we allow you to do so. Thank you Steven I have had a long day but this has made it much better for me. So if we are to offer public rebates in the elections to follow I can't wait to see who will come a knocking on the dandelion covered lawns that year. And lord knows what the tax bill will be on property to cover that enforcement. Maybe we'll call it Imagine London's new surcharge. Someone has to find the money to pay back the rebates.
Is it true son of ward 6 or Trusow of ward 6 ,I'm terrible at spelling.

Yours truly,
Bob Howard
Candidate Ward 6

MapMaster said...

I am rather confused about your emphasis on accountability, Stephen, as really only one of your proposals addresses it — the one with which I agree, by the way, that councillors' votes be recorded for public access. Accountability in the context of city hall simply means that the actions of politicians, bureaucrats and the agencies they either run or finance can be made known, accounted for, and held liable or answerable to the public. As such, a few measures would enhance accountability: first, the one you propose that I cite above; second, that all business conducted by the city, whether by its politicians, administrators or agencies, be made a matter of public record (no more closed door meetings, for example); and third, that municipal elections be held more frequently, although this matter is in the provincial jurisdiction. An argument could be made that mandatory disclosure of candidates' financing and contributors be made public to increase accountability, but it is specifically the actions of the city's political and administrative agents for which they should be held accountable — their suspected motivations make for fine theatre, but are not terribly important. I might add, though, that it would be helpful for the city's website to be redesigned for ease of searching and browsing, and that committee agendas and meetings be posted at least as text pdfs if not as html. Currently sifting through the public records is tiresome… although as long as they are available in a timely fashion, it is not worthy of being a campaign issue.

But I do not agree that "[u]ltimately, the level of accountability in elected government is a direct function of the integrety of each individual elected official." It is a function of the laws governing elected officials — better to say that the integrity of elected officials is partly a function of the level of accountability. And while I agree that, as you say, electing "representatives who will carry out their job with the utmost integrity" is a difficult task, I would add that this is so because integrity is such a vague and inert concept that applied in such a general sense it is incontestable to the point of being meaningless. One man's integrity is another man's threateningly rigid partisanship, for example. I have no reason to believe of most of the present council that they lack integrity — that is the source of neither any dissatisfaction nor satisfaction I have with any of them. Nor do I have any reason to suspect your own integrity, and I do not in fact. To the point, the integrity of the individual politician is important only so far as his or her discretion over private property and interests go.

I took issue with the proposal of partially rebating individual donations as reported in the Free Press primarily because it is wrong to compel people to support political speech with which they disagree. But it was your contention that there is, or at least that there appears to be, particular special interests who influence city hall that interested me the most, because it appeared to be the motivation for this proposal. As such, I couldn't help but regarding the idea as not only wrong, but instituting another wrong without in the least addressing the causes for special interest influence.
But if I might take the liberty of using the broadest possible definition of accountability to encompass what I think you mean by the term, then the surest way to make council more accountable is to narrow or eliminate its political discretion over matters using the law — that is, eliminate the arbitrary nature of its authority over residents of the city that allow politicians to be swayed by or against particular special interests.

There are two parts to this, although they are ultimately linked together, the arbitrariness and the authority. For the first, you could try to reduce the arbitrariness of decision-making by making supervision of municipal law and regulation less circumstantial or discretionary by submitting each to the test of yes or no, by repealing and not passing any laws which do not or will not be equally applicable to every resident, and by repealing and not passing any laws which the city does not intend to or cannot enforce. Zoning variances are a perfect example of the arbitrary process of decision-making that allows and even encourages special interests to compete for the favours and attentions of councillors. Make those laws and regulations absolute instead and subject only to the simple test of yes or no — such and such height, use, density, etc. are permitted or forbidden on this site according to plans that cannot be varied politically. And with all laws and regulations — reduce the incentive for special interests to compete for special dispensations in a political process in which one can succeed at the expense of the other, entirely by political means. But wait, you might say, circumstances change and must be allowed to change… I would agree entirely. And the plans themselves, as well as any other regulations or laws, would have to be decided and voted on in a political process to begin with. Moreover, politicians could not be bound by this because even this limited attempt acknowledges their authority over these matters, and it is this authority over private property and interests that is both arbitrary and generates arbitrariness in the first place — placing private property and interests in the political realm necessarily and inevitably makes them subject to an arbitrary and manipulatable political process and inherently infringes inequally to someone's benefit and at someone else's cost. Once the city has hold of these powers, there is no use complaining that special interests have hijacked the city — it could not be otherwise.

Unfortunately, there is no way at the municipal level in which the municipal government could be bound to observe stricter limits on its authority. One is compelled, not to elect representatives that promise they can do something about it, but to elect those who recognize the causes of the problem — they at least are the most likely to be frugal with the city's political authority and invite less special interest influence.

Joe: thank you for the kind comments. Although "brash" we may be, unfortunately we have neither the time nor the assets to think of a daily newspaper. We do, however, make the most of a free internet privilege as we can.

Stephen Turner said...

Yes Bob, Imagine London would certainly be required to submit to such a lobbyist registry whenever it contacted members of council. The rules would apply to all.

Stephen Turner said...

And Map, while we differ ideologically, I do agree, to an extent, that there should be some black and white to planning issues. The arbitrary nature of some zoning proposals is exactly what leads the city to the OMB time and time again. The Official Plan is up for review this year and there will be a few opportunities for pubilic participation which I would recommend everyone to attend. Its dry stuff but integral to the function of our city. I fully support tightening up sections of the Official Plan to avoid just that - the arbitrary nature of the process (and to save taxpayer dollars by avoiding having to defend the city's stance before the OMB).

I also completely agree on improving the searchability of council and committee agendas and minutes. I've long advocated for that but its not exactly the stuff campaigns are made of. I'd also like to see committee meetings held at different times (not concurrently) so that councillors and the public would be able to attend the meetings of the other committees. This would lead to a better informed public and council. Again, not quite the stuff campaigns are made of.

As for the campaign donation rebate, I can understand the grounds for your objection, however, it would be nice to see everyone, even Bob, have the opportunity to mount a reasonable campaign. The playing field is inherently imbalanced when it is mostly corporate dollars which finance campaigns. It really only allows for one point of view to be prodominantly represented at the horseshoe.

Anyway, I know this isn't the most friendly audience to my views, but I've enjoyed the discussion and I do frequent your site as I know there are always some wise kernels of policy to be found within.

Honey Pot said...

I don't think unions should be able to donate money to political parties, or individual campaigns. It is wrong for them to coerce
members of a union, who may not agree with the philosphy of a political party such as the ndp. A campaign contribution should be an individuals choice, not something that is forced upon them because of union affliation.

For example... Sid Ryan who speaks for cupe is spouting off how cupe members in Ontario are anti-Israel, pro-terrorist. I think he is full of shit. If each member could speak up, without fear of retaliation from the Union bosses, I doubt you would get more than a handful that see the Hezzassholes and Hamasses as a lovable bunch. Why should their union dues go towards supporting terrorist groups? I think all union money should be accounted for. I want to know now that the United Church is unionized, if thier buildings and donations are now taxable. Does the union funnel money through the United Church for a tax free status? Shit like that needs to be answered.

Honey Pot said...

...hmmmm, am keeping track lately of the similarities between the terrorist groups, such as the Hezzassholes/Hamasses, and the ndp/unions. I just found another one. In the civilized world a handful of smart people, years ago, realized it was best to separate church and state. Funny how the ndp/union have went backwards, and now see the church and state as one in the same.

I have faith in Canadians, they will stand up for their country, and turn their backs on the lunatic left. They will not let the left lead them right up the dog's asshole of islam.

MapMaster said...

I'm glad that you do frequent the site, Stephen, and I try to ground discussions not on the friendliness of anyone's disposition to another but the actual policies. As for your last comment, I have no dispute with anything you say except that the imbalance in the playing field for candidates is rather a distraction. From the perspective of a voter, I cannot see why candidates are entitled to a level playing field but only to the level that they are capable of making for themselves. It certainly does seem to me that, for all the brou-haha about corporate donations, business is getting a poor return for their investment in politicking. But in any case, if one is concerned about their influence, give them nothing to influence.

Honey Pot, I entirely agree with your sentiments. If unions were voluntary associations of individuals, I would not have any more problem with them donating than I would businesses. Again, though, banning donations by unions only addresses the symptoms, not the causes — which are the absurd labour laws in this country that allow conscription of workers and their money. Union leaders are always going to be a daft bunch of leftist loonies, but their power is greatly exaggerated by legal expropriation of labour and dollars.

Anonymous said...

This post is one of many that I've made over the years, so it's nice to see things like recorded Council votes and non-proprietary formats for information of the City website being given some attention. More recently, I've suggested that audio recordings ought to be made available on the City website of every Council and Committee meeting. Of course, they'd have to address the problem of those politicians who don't key their microphones. Agendas/Minutes are well and good, but it's often the exchanges between politicians/staff/public which is the most enlightening.

Greg Fowler, Candidate Ward One.