Integrity of Election Process Critical to Democracy

By Ed Corrigan

Published in the London Free Press, September 19, 2005

Regarding the article "Audit finds minor offenses: Paul Van Meerbergen made unintentional violations in his election campaign expenses" (Sept. 15,) and the editorial Audit results show probe frivolous (Sept. 16). These items report that six violations were found in an audit of Ward 7 Coun, Paul Van Meerbergen's campaign expenses, but that they were "minor."

It does not make it clear that Paul Van Meerbergen failed to expense the letter from former Conservative MPP Bob Wood.

Van Meerbergen sent 680 letters to residents in Ward 7. Postage alone would cost $326.40. The audit reports an expense of $414.80 for the cost of this mailing and all other office supplies.

Mr. Van Meerbergen ran a campaign that lasted 8 months yet declared only a total of $84.75 for office expense. This includes office space, sign storage and telephone and other office related costs. The auditor assessed a total of $500 for office expenses for a 7 month long campaign. This works out to $71.43 per month. I declared an expense of $350.00 per month for office facilities and sign storage.

Production costs for three 15 second television commercials and a 30 second commercial were also not declared as expenses. Production costs were assessed by the auditor as worth only $350.00. This is very conservative estimate. I submitted a written quote to the auditor which stated production costs for a 30 second TV commercial was between $1,000 and $2,500. Professional fees and polling expense were declared as expenses that were exempt to the campaign spending limit. The auditor ruled that they should have been expensed subject to the campaign limitation for a total additional campaign expense of $1,950.

Errors in Mr. Van Meerbergen's Election Expenses Report were made in terms of incomplete reporting of donor information in 13 instances were also found to be "an apparent violation of the Act" by the auditor. Mr. Van Meerbergen also failed to report any ending inventory as required by law. This was found by the auditor to be "an apparent violation of the act."

The total difference in campaign costs subject to the limitation is according to the auditor's calculations is $3,214.80. This represents a difference of over 10% in the campaign expense subject to the limitation not the 4% reported in the article. The campaign limit for Ward 7 in the 2003 municipal election was $31,665.60.

The integrity of the election process is critical to democracy and it is required that every candidate properly report their election expenses. Mr. Van Meerbergen has not done this and in my view these are not minor offenses.

However, since the auditor has made a determination that the errors were "not intentional" and since the expenses, as assessed by the Auditor, did not put him over the campaign expense limit the requirement in law that he forfeit his seat if he exceeded the spending limit has not been met.

However, all candidates must be held accountable under the Municipal Election Expenses Act or our democracy will be undermined. And that is not frivolous.

Ed Corrigan is a London lawyer and was a Ward 7 incumbent seeking re-election in 2003.