Audit: Paolatto didn't campaign early, but over-contributed
LONDON, ONT. -- After almost two years after the election, Londoners finally have some answers about the 2018 race for the mayor’s office.
A copy of the election compliance audit obtained by CTV News concludes that mayoral runner-up Paul Paolatto over-contributed to his own election war chest, but did not campaign before the official start date.
“I think the process took way too long to be efficient,” says Lincoln McCardle who filed complaints with city hall’s Compliance Audit Committee after the 2018 municipal election.
It was 17 months ago that the committee ordered an audit based on McCardle’s complaint about so-called “pre-campaigning” by Paolatto. The Municipal Elections Act forbids campaign spending before registering as a candidate, which didn’t start until May 1, 2018.
Paolatto advertised his blog about municipal issues, The Paolatto Report, on billboards and other media six months earlier.
The ads contained no specific reference to an upcoming campaign for the mayor’s office.
“For me it was really about protecting the integrity of the process. Today’s decision is kind of disappointing,”
In his report, auditor William Molson determined Paolatto had sought advice from a lawyer and the city clerk before purchasing the billboards.
In determining there was no violation of the Municipal Elections Act, Molson writes, “I do not think the Act intends to deny persons who may or may not aspire to public office, the opportunity to engage in profile building, or to promote public discussion of matters of civic interest.”
But that worries McCardle about the 2022 election.
“This has opened a huge loophole, which almost makes tithe Municipal (Elections) Act pointless if people can now follow a similar playbook.” he explains.
Paolatto was found, however, to have exceeded the $25,000 limit on contributions to a candidate’s own campaign.
His declared personal contribution of $21,913.33 did not include $180 for cellphone usage, but unnecessarily included $2,900 in legal fees prior to the campaign.
In September 2018, his campaign reimbursed him $6,500 for online advertising paid with his personal credit card.
The Municipal Elections Act, however, only permits candidate reimbursement after the election.
The auditor ruled the $6,500 remained a personal contribution, pushing Paolatto $693 over the limit.
In a statement to CTV News Paolatto writes, “I believe it best that I respectfully refrain from further comment until the Compliance Audit Committee has reviewed the matter and rendered a decision.”
City hall’s Compliance Audit Committee will call a meeting to determine if the audit findings warrant a referral to the courts.
McCardle doubts that the issue will be referred.
“Mr Paolatto has said from the beginning he did nothing wrong, and I think he is somewhat vindicated.” says McCardle. “Regardless of what I believe, he was right.
McCardle wants the province to close loopholes that allow wealthier candidates to raise their public profiles by purchasing advertisements before other candidates can even start fundraising.
“I think it’s a dangerous precedent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more people doing this in the months or years leading up to the next municipal election.”
McCardle has not yet received the compliance audit report based on his complaint about Paul Cheng’s 2018 mayoral campaign.