Limits on fundraising by council members proposed in new Code of Conduct

burlington fundraising council code of conduct

Community & Corporate Services Committee, May 27, 1pm & 6:30pm, City Hall

Staff are recommending rules on fundraising by council members as part of a new Code of Conduct that will be considered in a workshop at the Community & Corporate Services Committee May 27.

Previously there were no limits on who could donate or how much, to council-member events, and no requirement for public reporting, though reports were provided on request. Council members have raised funds for public meetings (Inspire, One Dream) charitable events (Mayor’s Cabaret) and community events (Car Free Sundays) without benefit of guidelines and limits.

Under the proposed Code, a Member of Council or a third party acting on behalf of the Member would not be able to solicit or accept support in any form from an individual, group or corporation with a pending planning, conversion or demolition application before Burlington City Council. Further, for Member-Organized Community Events, Members of Council must keep a record of the names of all donors and the value of their donation that supplements the event.

The proposed Code also limits gifts to members of council to less than $300 from any one source in a calendar year. Members would be allowed to accept tickets to banquets receptions or similar events galas, receptions, (g) food and beverages if:

  1. attendance serves a legitimate business purpose;
  2. the person extending the invitation or a representative of the organization is in attendance; and
  3. the value is reasonable and the invitations infrequent.

Items covered by the Code include:

  • General Integrity
  • Confidential Information
  • Conduct at Council/Committee meetings
  • Respect for Decision-making Process
  • Release of Information to Public and Media
  • Respectful Workplace
  • Improper Use of Influence
  • Use of Municipal Property and Resources
  • Conduct Respecting staff
  • Expenses
  • Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality
  • Fundraising, Community Events and Donations
  • Election-Related Activity

An Integrity Commissioner would be hired on a fee for service basis to investigate complaints of Code violation. Penalties range from a reprimand to suspension of pay up to 90 days. No complaints would be investigated after July 1 in an election year, and no reports of prior complaints would come to council after June in an election year. These complaints would be dealt with by the next term of council.

The Integrity Commissioner can refuse to investigate if under the belief the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, or there are insufficient grounds for an investigation.

Given the experience of other municipalities, the cost is expected to be nominal (less than $25,000/year), and funded through existing reserve funds. The Town of Oakville had two complaints
since the adoption of their code of conduct in 2008. The Town of Richmond Hill has less than 5 per year since 2010 and only one overall that actually became a formal complaint. The City of St. Catherines has had one complaint since their code was adopted in 2010.

My Take: The Code is a step in the right direction for transparency and accountability, but on fundraising and gifts to council members the code doesn’t go far enough. I raised concerns about fundraising activities by members of council in December 2012 since these were happening without benefit of guidelines, required reporting or limits. People with current development applications with the city were providing large donations to some of these events. This compromises the appearance of impartiality when those same council members vote on applications by these donors. I had advocated that the Code forbids donations from those with current business with the city, and am pleased it does so. I’d like additional limits on the amount any one donor can give in a year, and restrictions on fundraising during elections. Overall, in my view, council members should not be doing any fundraising for their own events, but should be funding constituent activities out of their pre-approved councillor budgets.

Regarding gifts to council members, a limit of $300 per calendar year for a single gift or from a single donor is far too large, and should be a nominal amount only, closer to $25. I don’t think council members should be accepting tickets to receptions; Councillors can pay for tickets to events out of our councillor budgets, but even better should be paying for such tickets ourselves, as our residents must. I pay my way to receptions and galas. The only exception would be attendance at an event as part of membership in a board, for which the board pays for a table for board members.

Your Take: Do the rules go far enough? Is a Code of Conduct overkill? Leave a comment below.

Limits on fundraising by Burlington council members in new Code of Conduct
Article Name
Limits on fundraising by Burlington council members in new Code of Conduct
The Code is a step in the right direction for transparency and accountability, but on fundraising and gifts to council members the code doesn't go far enough.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

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  1. It is unfortunate that most citizens (I hate the term customers) do not have a clue regarding the moneys and unpaid benefits flowing toward council members. I agree with you in your last paragraph where accepting gifts of any kind should always be looked at with a great deal of skepticism. A member of council was elected and should accept the terms of the budget allocated. If they do not like that do not run for office.

  2. I really like the last paragraph. There should be no free lunches for ANY city staff especially the planning department and councillors.

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