By Wyn Jones
A local interest group has once again raised the subject of political donations at a recent HRM Council meeting. The group rightly questioned whether HRM Councillors should be accepting donations from local developers.
Some councillors immediately replied, quite categorically, that donations are a necessary part of the election process. As indeed they are. An election campaign, even at the municipal level, can be expensive.
But why single out the real estate developers alone, when the real question is the moral implications of corporate or business donations? Despite the protestations by councillors that accepting money is not problematic, given human nature, a donation of any amount does, in fact imply and create a bias in favour of the donor.
The simplest solution to this moral quandary is to ban all donations from corporations and businesses. But this solution would only shift the sources of money to individual donors, which, in turn, only heightens the implication of self-interest and special personal favour.
During a campaign with multiple candidates, the one who can raise the most money is very often at a distinct advantage over any rival. Any candidate worth his or her salt will naturally spend more time and effort cultivating a rapport with those on whom they depend for financial aid.
Why then should we not consider banning donations of any kind and level the playing field by giving each contender a defined and equal amount of money funded by HRM itself? Each candidate would first have to demonstrate a serious interest in gaining elected office by submitting a deposit of $5,000. The candidate would eventually be reimbursed this amount on winning a minimum percentage of the vote, like eight percent. Lower than this percentage, and the candidate would lose the deposit. This provision would eliminate frivolous candidacies.
The amount of money granted to each candidate in each riding in HRM could be in the range of $12,000 to $15,000, with the mayoralty candidates each receiving $25,000 to $30,000. These figures are in line with the average amounts that our councillors spent on their election campaigns last fall. By funding our candidates in this way, all the eventual winners would be able to take office unencumbered by favours owed or promised. They would be free to cast their votes in Council purely by merit and by conscience, and never have to face any suggestions of favouritism or bias.