Ontario Liberals held more than 90 cash-for-access fundraisers in two-year span

cash for meeting

By Adrian Morrow, The Globe and Mail (May 09) – In Kathleen Wynne’s first two years as Premier, the Ontario Liberals held more than 90 private small-scale fundraisers at which deep-pocketed donors paid up to $10,000 for exclusive face-time with Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet.

At some events, groups of fewer than 10 people shelled out thousands of dollars to bend the ears of the province’s most powerful politicians for an evening. Such fundraisers helped the Liberals collect $12.5-million for the party and its campaign war chest.

The Globe and Mail has obtained lists of all the Ontario Liberal Party’s fundraisers for 2013 and 2014, exposing for the first time the sheer size of the cash-for-access system that has fuelled one of the country’s most successful political machines.

When The Globe reported the Liberals’ practice of holding secret fundraisers two months ago, Ms. Wynne and her ministers cancelled all upcoming private events and promised legislation this spring with more restrictions on campaign financing. But the Liberals refused to disclose how many small-scale fundraisers the party has held.

Lists of the events are in the Liberals’ annual financial filings with Elections Ontario at the agency’s headquarters in a Scarborough industrial park. The lists include the date of the fundraiser, the ticket price and the number of tickets sold. They do not disclose who bought the tickets. Some of the filings give the identity of the politician who hosted the event; many do not. The financials for 2015 have not yet been filed.

The Ontario Liberal Party on Monday indicated it would be keeping secret the guest lists for its fundraisers. A spokeswoman insisted there was nothing untoward in having people pay large sums of money to meet government decision-makers.

“The Premier has been clear that in her government, political donations do not buy policy decisions, and any suggestion otherwise is completely false,” Patricia Favre, a party vice-president, wrote in an e-mail. “Decisions are made with the best interests of Ontarians in mind.”

But the scale of the operation – and the Liberals’ insistence on secrecy – is bound to further stoke questions about the propriety of people buying access to politicians. The Globe has reported that attendees at some intimate events included several banks that profited from the Hydro One privatization, and a high-powered lobbyist who represents a roster of electricity companies.

“The economics of raising money always drive political parties into the arms of large donors. Donors always want access in exchange for their money, so you end up with these small, private parties with wealthy contributors,” says campaign finance expert Robert MacDermid, an associate professor of political science at York University in Toronto. “That’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Politicians should go engage regular voters.”

Between Feb. 11, 2013, when Ms. Wynne took office, and the end of 2014, the Liberals held 137 fundraisers that grossed more than $13.5-million, according to the lists. After covering expenses from the events, the party netted $12.5-million; $7-million in 2014 and $5.5-million the year before.

Of the fundraisers, 98 – more than 70 per cent of the total – list fewer than 50 tickets sold. These include an evening with Ms. Wynne on April 2, 2014, in which nine people paid between $9,000 and $10,000 apiece for time with the Premier. On Oct. 1, 2014, 10 people paid $10,000 each for an audience with Ms. Wynne. (Although donations are capped at $9,975, the amount deducted for the party’s costs would make the donation netted from a $10,000 ticket less than the cap.)

High-ranking cabinet ministers also held similar small events. Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid had a Sept. 18, 2014, fundraiser in which 10 people paid $5,000 apiece; Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli held a reception on Dec. 9, 2014, for eight people paying $5,000 each.

The list also gives some indication of the pace of fundraising, which seems particularly busy in the spring and fall.

In one five-week period, from March 25 to April 28 of 2014, Ms. Wynne held eight private fundraisers, raising $841,000 for her party. Ticket prices ranged from $1,500 to $10,000, and guest lists from nine to 22 people. One event was co-hosted by Mr. Chiarelli; another featured Eric Hoskins, then economic development minister.

That fall, three events with Ms. Wynne between Oct. 1 and 8 made nearly $200,000. Ticket prices ranged from $5,000 and $10,000, and guest lists included eight to 11 people.

In all, the lists include 79 events with ticket prices of $1,000 or more, including 37 with tickets priced at $5,000 and up.

On top of the small events, there were also 39 larger public gatherings over the two years. These included the Heritage Dinner, the Liberals’ largest annual fundraiser, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which raised $1.7-million from 1,400 guests in 2013 and $2.3-million from 1,500 people in 2014; Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s Red Snowflake Soirée, which took in more than $96,000 from 217 guests at Muzik Nightclub in 2013 and $79,000 from 208 people at One King West hotel in 2014; plus several golf tournaments and Trillium Dinner events in Ottawa and Hamilton.

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