WANTED: A CEILING ON ELECTION SPENDING
A veteran political organizer urges us to place a limit on campaign funds and make their donors stand up and be counted
HON. C. G. POWER
as told to Leslie Roberts
THE BANE of the modern politician is the certainty that if he departs in the slightest degree from the straight and narrow path of routine partisan activity, his actions are at once analyzed in a frantic search for hidden motives and inside stories.
Let me say that this article is not intended to be a sensational disclosure of the securely hidden and safely guarded secrets of any political organization. It is not intended to be an attack on those who in the past either contributed or received campaign funds.
Having said this, I would like to enter a plea for major and, I believe, urgent reforms in the raising and spending of campaign funds by Canadian political parties. I believe that their size, real or reputed, brings pressure for stupid, senseless and futile expenditures; that they can and should be limited by law; that the hypocritical concealment of their extent and sources gives rise to unhealthy rumors and suspicions which undermine faith and confidence in democratic institutions; and that in
the interests of Canadian democracy, the sources of campaign contributions and the size of funds should be indicated to the public.
I am not a reformed political rake nor even a moralizing crusader seeking, at one fell swoop, to destroy the demon of political corruption. I have myself been for many years connected with my own party organization—constituency, provincial and national. If I could, I would dedicate these lines to my fellow political “Sons of Martha” of all political shades, whose unsung labors—in preparing conventions, meetings, speeches, in grooming candidates, in sounding, forming and delivering public opinion—go a long way toward successful
results at the polls, despite interventions by zealots on the one hand and mercenaries on the other, and sometimes temperamental candidates and leaders.
Smoke Out the Chiselers
NO GROUP of people would be happier to see restriction of election exj>enditures than those who come under the head of political organizers.
They would like to see spending cut to the point where, for example, just because one side plasters every pole in the county with its candidate’s picture, the other need not follow suit. They would like to be rid of all the little chiselers who come around with schemes which, because they have already sold them to the other side—advertisements in often valueless publications, for instance—they literally blackmail you into buying for your own man, usually at rates the vendor dare not charge for ordinary commercial purposes. Restrictions of campaign spending would certainly be a cure for an organizer’s headaches.
This is merely an attempt to bring back to public notice and to that of the House of Commons a measure of political reform which was introduced by myself asa minister on behalf of the Government during the session of 1938 and reintroduced during the following mission of 1939.
At that time the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, Mr. VV. LMackenzie King, said: “Campaign funds
are necessary for the purposes of an election. Is there anything wrong with securing funds to help propagate the principles in which one believes?” Mr. R. B. Bennett on Jan. 31, 1938, said in the House: “Contributions to political parties are not in any sense censurable.”
During the course of the debate, on March 13, 1939, an advertisement in the Vancouver Province, entitled “The CCF Makes a Frank Appeal to You,” read: “Money is needed to purchase radio time,
to prepare attractive literature, to send organizers into neglected areas . . . to do the hundred and one things necessary to assure the success of CCF candidates . . , You can make a direct contribution, or pledge a set. amount per month, and contributions will be privately acknowledged and remain confidential.”
Obviously all parties believe in the necessity of campaign funds. I believe in them too. Nevertheless, again in 1949 at the outset of a new session, I am hoping to persuade the House of Commons to reopen the discussion and put some sort of ceiling on what the public calls election slush. We need more than a ceiling on spending. We have a right to know what is under the roof.
These were the objectives of the legislation which I introduced in Parliament in 1938 and brought back to the House in somewhat altered form in 1939. As I am hoping to see the whole question reopened and acted upon during the present session, it may be interesting to look back to what happened then, because we shall probably hear more of the same in days to come.
The moralists were sure my original bill did not go far enough, because it was obvious that all electoral corruption would not cease with the bill’s enactment into law. The political cognoscenti, on the other hand, took the position that: it would be far better to make existing penalties for infractions of the Elections Act work before burdening political workers with new thou-shalt-nots. As
debate wore on, more and more members took to ridicule as their weapon of attack. “Power’s Purity Purge” is one of the phrases I remember. The bill received extensive study in committee, however, and was reported back to the House with approval and the recommendation that a similar bill should be reintroduced at the next, session of Parliament with a number of amendments. This was done, but before either passage or defeat could be registered, war intervened and matters of purely domestic political concern were relegated to the dustbin.
What, are t hese things called campaign funds? The answer depends on who you are and sometimes on whether you are on the winning or losing side of an election. If you are a CCFer, the campaign fund spells out as capitalist corruption. If you are a Social Créditer, it is money from the banks. If you run with the Bloc Populaire, campaign funds and British Imperialism are synonymous. If you vote the LPP ticket then the imperialism, at the moment, is American. If you should be a defeated Liberal candidate, then you were licked by the money power of Bay Street, or St. James Street. If you are an unsuccessful Conservative, you may
insist you were beaten by an unholy alliance between the Government and dishonest contractors.
What is the size of the slush funds allegedly required to fight a federal election?
The public seems to think they add up to an inexhaustible hoard of gold, piled as high as the treasure of Fort. Knox. These funds are used, say the rumormongers, to purchase votes by the thousand, to hire thugs, perjurers, gangsters, padders of electoral lists, impersonators to cast the ballots of the quick, who are not quick enough in getting out to vote on election day, and sometimes even the dead. The slush fund (again the reference is to rumor) goes to intimidate the timid and roughhouse the strong, to raid committee rooms, stuff ballot, boxes and .sow a reign of terror in honest. God-fearing communities. That is how the uninformed public seems to see it.
From the organizer’s point of view, however, the funds in his possession, or which he must raise as he goes along, are the target of every racketeer in the country. The woods are full of gentry who spend the four-year period between elections dreaming up ideas which will bring in
easy money when the next campaign rolls around. To the organizer the fund is the constantly dwindling supply of dollars from which he draws the means to meet, thousands of demands, requests and prayers, legitimate and otherwise. It is the decreasing mite with which he must meet all claims, bills, accounts, requests and plain holdups—an insufficient mite which has made him a host of enemies and few, if any, friends.
Actually, in the national sense, the campaign fund is the amount of money required by any political party to educate the public in the nature of its policies and program. In terms of the individual constituency, it is the money a candidate needs with which to fight his own individual election. It is to the national, or general, fund that the large contributions are made, a considerable portion of this money flowing out to regional organizations and, through them, into individual ridings.
A $10 Million Headache
IT WOULD be a safe guess that at the present.
the major federal political parties are spending approximately $3 millions each over the four-year period, including the eight weeks of the campaign proper. Other parties probably spend another $1 million all told. These $7 millions of central funds are contributed by organizations, corporations and individual sympathizers. The sum total of other funds expended on the constituency level for a federal election would tally another $3 millions. In other words, apart from the official costs of an election, defrayed by the state itself, supporters of parties and individuals are spending something like $10 millions to elect a House of Commons, the present membership of which is 245.
That averages considerably more than $40,000 per member. When you pause to consider that the CCF, the Social Creditors and splinter-groupers are going along largely on a shoestring, the cost of getting a representative of either of the two major parties into the House of Commons begins to be apparent.
This theoretical average of $40,000, of course, includes a proportion of overhead—four years of it—in the central organization’s publicity, radio, advertising, and what not, and that for all parties.
Moreover, the amounts vary in different constituencies. For instance, in an election held nearly 30 years ago in a Montreal Island constituency the amount legally expended and publicly reported by one candidate was $105,000. The loser in the same constituency on the same occasion spent $44,000. These sums, needless to say, constitute a record at least for known legal disbursements. In other constituencies as little as $400 or $500 has been sufficient to carry the day.
Yet the war chest is always empty. Even in the heat of an election campaign, central party funds are usually in the red and the faithful are out scrounging for dollars. As the race goes down to the wire the demands from individual candidates become more and more urgent, more and more insistent. Candidates themselves have a tendency to minimize or conceal information as to the money they have received from supporters in their own ridings and constantly, persistently and tearfully call on headquarters for more and more money.
A Ban on Free Riders?
THIS adds enormously to the cost of an election.
With a ceiling on slush it would disappear. It would also enable the candidate’s organizer to ward off exaggerated local demands. The racketeer would look for other means of turning a penny. Hence the corrupt practices in which he engages would, I believe, largely disappear, for it is on the constituency level that corrupt practices mainly occur.
What are these practices? In the main they
are the direct bribery of electors, treating, imper-
sonation of voters and the transportation of citizens
to and from the polls, the last of which may surprise
many an honest
Continued on page 48
Wanted: A Ceiling on Election Spending
Continued from page 8
citizen who regards himself as entitled to a free ride to the ballot box in a car provided by his own party’s candidate.
Take bribery, or the buying of votes by one device or another. Sometimes I think there has been a considerable improvement over the bad old days, but sometimes I wonder. There was a time, of course, when votes were literally bought for money in the market place. I well remember an incident, more than 40 years ago, when the Liberal buyers set up shop on one side of an actual market and their Tory competitors for votes on the other, while the vendors, the voters, moved from one side to the other, offering their franchises to the highest bidder. It was a tight election and toward the end of the day single votes were going for as high as $75 and $80 and one transaction was even recorded for an even $100. When the exchange, or rather the polling places, closed, the winner’s majority was two votes. Thirty-five thousand dollars had been spent by one side, $30,000 by the other. Another $300 in the loser’s kitty in the last five minutes would have turned the tide.
Such things could not happen in these enlightened times. We have become smoother operators. Nowadays staunch friends of candidates become distributors of largess for the limited period of the campaign and surreptitious deliveries of coal, large orders of groceries, or even electric washing machines are made at the right, moment.
The washing machine story will, I think, bear telling. It happened in a recent provincial election. A few days before the end of the campaign, electric washers arrived in a closely contested constituency in what can only be called wholesale lots and were delivered to householders with considerable flourish by workers for one of the candidates. There was grateful acceptance of these windfalls and, it may be assumed, marks of gratitude on ballot papers a few days later. A month passed. Notices were received from a sales agent demanding payment of second installments. Irate and, of course, virtuous householders immediately sought out the political workers who had “arranged” the pre-election deliveries. The standard reply to angry questions
went something like this: “You said
your wife wanted a washing machine and our candidate, now member, had the influence necessary to arrange a priority for you and the generosity to make the down payment in order to expedite delivery. What more do you want?” The “more” the citizen might want did not materialize and the occasional voter who consulted his attorney quickly discovered that his “case” simply did not exist in law. He could either foot the bill or send the washer back. Meanwhile, an election had been won.
Treating, for election purposes, is defined as the giving, or providing, of any meat, drink, provision or refreshment for the purpose of corruptly influencing voters—a practice which appears to have come down to us from the British. Here it took root in the giving of heavy subsidies to friendly tavern keepers, so that they might invite all and sundry to drink to the health of the great Mr. X and “To Hell with the opposition.” The movement from the old-time saloon to the modern cocktail lounge has destroyed this form of political activity, at least in urban areas, for who would think of asking the guests of one of Mr. Drew’s modern bars to stand and drink to the health of, say, Tim Buck? But in remote rural districts the old-fashioned “committee” and the Quebec “veillée” still have their place.
The Drinks Cancel Out
Imagine two or three budding young statesmen, fresh from the city, transplanted to a back-country kitchen, crowded with 30 or 40 rural voters of all ages and both sexes for an evening of song and dance, a minimum of serious political talk, food and a plentiful supply of the candidate’s rum or “Caribou” and you have all the elements of entertainment if not of political education. F'ew latter-day politicians believe that their cause is advanced by such high jinks, but members of the older generation look back with nostalgic regret to a day when youth, a strong constitution and a man-size capacity for food and drink enabled them to participate in such unethical adventures. It may have been sinning against the electoral code, but at least it was joyful sin.
The high cost of even the commoner liquors has curtailed this kind of entertainment, but I doubt if curtailment has had much effect on the decisions
reached by voters. As in most things concerned with elections, the activities of one party cancel out those of the other, with the result that if both abstain from undercover goings-on—as they would be forced to do if expenditures were restricted—the result of the polling would be the same.
The Ladies Are a Problem
Personation (usually called impersonation by the public) is defined as applying for a ballot paper in the name of some other person, alive or dead. We acquired this practice from the United States, where it has been used effectively by the big-city machines. It does not appear to have penetrated into our election practices to any great extent west of the Ottawa River, but by all accounts it flourishes in Montreal, where it goes by the name of “telegraphing” and its exponents as “telegraphers.” The Hon. C. H. Cahan, when he sat for the Montreal riding of St. Lawrence-St. George, oq a number of occasions gave the House of Commons realistic pictures of the manner in which elections have been won and lost in that hybrid urban riding through the use of gangs of telegraphers, often imported from thé United States, who contracted to deliver large blocks of votes in thickly populated areas, at so much per ballot.
Of all our corrupt electoral practices on the constituency level this is undoubtedly the most heinous and the most difficult with which to cope, since its operators are professionals, thugs and gangsters who stop at nothing. The practice has increased considerably since women secured the vote, not because the ladies are more politically immoral than their menfolks, but because women are not generally as widely known as men. Many businesswomen reside in boardinghouses and are seldom known even to their immediate neighbors. A similar statement applies to female domestic help. Thus, to challenge the identification of a woman come to vote is extremely difficult. The result is that the feminine telegrapher has become an important part of the machinery of electoral corruption in those areas where impersonation is widely practiced.
None of these despicable practices, of course, is without its amusing incidents. The story is told, and is credible, of a lawyer candidate who, at the end of election day, discovered that his valuable fur coat had been removed
from its hook on the committee room wall. The next morning he was asked to appear in court to defend one of his “supporters” accused of impersonation. On meeting his client as the latter emerged from the courthouse cell, imagine the lawyer’s surprise when the “falsely” accused telegrapher appeared attired in the candidate’s own coon coat!
In all these despicable practices money is the motive power. It is my argument, therefore, that if we severely curtail its use on the constituency level we shall make rapid strides toward removal of these crimes against democracy, by taking away the incentives which attract the chiselers and the gangsters. I do not suggest that we shall be able to achieve the millennium overnight. But we can move a long way toward it.
The use of central party funds, particularly between election campaigns, is by no means as heinous a business as the uninitiated sometimes claim. At least three of the federal parties maintain permanent national headquarters in Ottawa: The Conservatives at
Bracken House (which may be Drew House, of course, by the time this is read), the CCF at Woodsworth House and the Liberals in rented offices on Wellington Street. Some of the Federal groups also maintain provincial offices. These all require full-time staffs, the members of which, because of the very nature of their work (which between elections may be called primarily educational), must be paid at least reasonable salaries to attract and hold competent people.
During the between-elections period, or nine tenths of tfie time, the function of these central offices is to keep a steady flow of party propaganda flowing into the country, in the form of periodicals, pamphlets, service to newspapers and all the usual legitimate devices of the propagandist.. As election time approaches, the staffs of these organizations increase threeor fourfold as the central offices become responsible for national advertising campaigns, arrangements for their leaders’ speaking tours and all manner of top-level activities—again, I repeat, of a perfectly legitimate and clean-cut nature. There can be little, if any, complaint about the functions of these central organizations.
The High Cost of Propaganda
No doubt exists, however, that if we were to restrict the amounts of money which central organizations are permitted to spend, we would be doing a good day’s work for democracy. For again, in this field, the scales are often weighted in favor of the party which, for one reason or another, is able to raise the preponderantly large campaign fund. During the last provincial election in Quebec, for example, that indirect ally of Mr. Drew’s Tories, Mr. Duplessis’ Union Nationale, carried no less than 16 pages of paid advertising in one issue of a French-language daily. The Union Nationale, though ostensibly only interested in provincial affairs, is definitely in the big league today as a spender.
But granted an even-money status as between major parties in any election, restriction of their expenditures would be helpful to all and would also assure a much better opportunity for fighting our elections on issues, rather than with money. As things are now, if one party engages to carry advertisements in each of the 100 daily newspapers in the country, then the other must do so—and one naif-page advertisement will cost the central organization $9,475 for a single appearance. If í33ither party were to advertise due to
restrictions on spending, I venture to assert that the outcome of the election would not be affected in the slightest degree.
Free radio time for discussion of the issues of the day, particularly over the CBC, has relieved the parties of some part of the financial burden, for a half hour’s talk by a national leader over the coast-to-coast network costs $5,500. It would do no harm, either, if the parties were forced, by lack of money, to eschew the use of the mails, excepting, perhaps, one mailing during a campaign, which costs close to $20,000 for postage alone. Much of the current use of the mails is wasted money in any case. In a recent provincial election, for example, it was discovered that in the last days of the campaign rural post offices were so jammed with political circulars from both parties that the propaganda material did not reach the voter before election day anyway. It would seem to me that what is wanted is an across-the-board study and overhaul of the whole campaigning technique, agreement among the parties on a new basis and a limiting of expenditures to fit the new technique.
There remains the question of publicizing the names of donors, and I do not think I am giving away any secrets of state when I say that those charged with the raising of campaign funds seriously fear that many present donors would no longer come across if the size of their donations were to be set down opposite their names, or the names of their corporations in a public report. I could also venture to believe that the publication of such names might in some cases be a source of embarrassment to the recipient party. But, actually, that is precisely what those who believe that reform is urgent are getting at. To publicize the names of those who contribute to central campaign funds would be an extremely healthy cathartic, both for donor and recipient. It is precisely the kind of medicine our democratic political process requires if it is to remain—or, perhaps I should say become—honestly democratic.
The original proposal of my 1938 bill, ironically called Power’s Purity Purge, was to make corporations of all local political committees and regional and central organizations. They were to be subject to the same sort of legal controls and returns which all corporations must make to the authority which issues their charters. All receipts were to be deposited in a bank account and duplicate deposit slips furnished to a central officer, comparable to the Auditor-General in his duties. All expenditures were to be made by cheque. Hence, there would be a complete picture, on view at any time, of the sources of funds and the purposes for which they had been spent. I still believe this is the best approach we can find.
The amount expendable in the constituencies, in 1938, was to have been 10 cents per name on the electoral list of any riding. When the amended bill came back in 1939, members were talking in terms of 20 cents.
As to penalties, the obvious, if drastic, one is loss of seat in the event of any infraction of the rules concerning expenditure. Actually this was the point on which most members boggled when it came down to discussion of the bill in 1938 and again in ’39. Mr. Neill, the Independent member from Comox-Alberni, B.C., perhaps stated the case in the most succinct terms and most effectively, because of his own reputation for the highest personal integrity. Calling the bill an abortion, he complained bitterly that the representative of a far-flung riding, such as his own, could not possibly be
expected to supervise the expenditures of his friends, or agent, in a constituency in which it is virtually impossible for the candidate to keep touch with his own outposts. Obviously, Mr. Neill pointed out, a man might easily, and inadvertently, overspend his quota in country in which he must get around by air, or even coastal schooner. Under such circumstances, he argued, the forfeit of his seat would be altogether too drastic a punishment. Such candidates, it was argued, could not be subjected to the same limitations as those laid on citizens contesting compact urban ridings. There is much to be said for this view.
Exceptions apart, the need for this type of penalty is crystal clear. The Rt. Hon. R. B. (later Lord) Bennett, with his almost uncanny knack of analyzing legislation, put his finger directly on this (to every member) sore spot in the proposals and said: “There
must be some summary method of dealing (with infractions of the code). And that summary method must provide that upon proof of contravention of the provisions . . . that man must forfeit his seat. And when you have men learning that their seats may be lost you will find a very great measure of care being exercised.”
The Candidate Must Pay
Here, to my way of thinking, lies the crux of the whole question. We may restrict and publicize as much as we like, but if we do not equip ourselves with the teeth of penalty, and give them a sharp biting edge, we might just as well not bother. The obvious point at which to lay on the penalty is the candidate. It becomes, therefore, a question of forcing the men and women who contest seats for the House of Commons to police their own elections. This admittedly is no easy task, but the results would be well worth the inconvenience, for they would give back to the Canadian people the confidence in democratic election practices which I believe they have lost. And if our people lack confidence in their own free institutions, believing them to be no longer free of external pressures, how long do you think those institutions will last?
When this subject was debated in 1938 I said in the House: “Our present democratic system is built on confidence. Destroy that confidence and the value of our institutions is almost entirely impaired. A greater threat by far to democracy than the ‘isms’ that now infest our body politic is the belief that electoral manipulation, electoral manoeuvring, electoralism as it is called in our province, is undermining the very basis of democracy.
“How many times, in discussing elections after the event, have not two or three or more men from different political groups or allegiances got together and said: ‘Surely it should be possible among ourselves, who in every other one of our activities are honest, decent, law-abiding citizens, to get together and see to it that our partisans and supporters shall be obliged to hew close to the line and run a decent, clean and honest election?’ Now if two opponents can do that, if in individual constituencies that idea can be carried out —and I am told that it has been done —why cannot we all here as members of Parliament, who know that evils exist and know what they are, also get together and by agreement decide which of these evils should be eliminated and then sanction that agreement by legislation?”
The situation has not changed since these words were said. The evil still remains.
But it can be remedied. ★