Does money get votes? A city of Ottawa example, part II

In a previous post, I looked at the plausible influence of campaign donations on council member’s voting records.

Ottawa city council members have been the recipients of a lot of cash from developers. To see if there is a link between cash received and their voting records, one can look at how they vote and see if it matches with the amount of money received. It’s a crude kind of analysis, but then, companies giving cash to a candidate’s electoral campaign isn’t exactly sophisticated or subtle.

In the vote on expansion of the urban boundary, the council voted not to expand by 2,000 hectares (which is what the developers wanted), nor by the 800 hectares (as recommended by city staff), but only to allow a single expansion of 220 hectares, to complete an area that was already largely developed.

Here’s how councillor’s votes lined up with cash received.

220
hectares

Amount
taken

% Total
contributions

Gord Hunter

n

$14,600

49.15

Rob Jellet

y

$13,450

39.05

Diane Deans

y

$12,150

35.55

Larry O’Brien

absent

$11,150

2.57

Maria McRae

n

$11,000

33.48

Jan Harder

n

$10,900

39.92

Michel Bellemare

y

$7,850

25.01

Rainer Bloess

n

$7,400

29.35

Bob Monette

n

$7,350

31.79

Rick Chiarelli

n

$5,600

21.12

Georges Bedard

y

$4,600

17.52

Eli El-Chantiry

n

$3,850

11.15

Doug Thompson

n

$3,650

39.09

Marianne Wilkinson

n

$2,850

16.72

Christine Leadman

y

$2,300

9.87

Steve Desroches

n

$1,500

8.29

Jacques Legendre

y

$950

4.59

Shad Qadri

n

$150

1.72

Glenn Brooks

y

$0

0

Alex Cullen

y

$0

0

Clive Doucet

y

$0

0

Peggy Feltmate

y

$0

0

Diane Holmes

y

$0

0

Peter Hume

y

$0

0

The vote to allow a limited expansion of 220 hectares was acceptable to all the councillors that had received no money from developers. As this motion was passed, the previous committee recommendation for 842 hectares expansion was not voted upon. The councillors that had received most money from developers, and voted against the motion to allow only 220 hectares, may have done so as they felt 220 hectares was not sufficient.

Ecology Ottawa were right to highlight the amount of campaign contributions from developers. There are plenty of examples of the subtle and not so subtle influences played by lobbying, contributions and freebies. A University of Kansas study found that a one-time tax break allowed several multinational corporations to receive a 22,000 % return on lobbying expenditures. Even though the amounts of money spent on campaign contributions to Ottawa councilors is tiny in comparison, even small gifts can change the recipient’s perception of the donor. Clipboards and notepads from drug companies given to medical students, though trivial gifts, were sufficient to improve the student’s perception of that company’s products.

So does money buy votes on Ottawa City Council? ┬áIt’s plausible, insofar as any donation can influence the perception of the recipient, although clearly votes do not line up exactly with campaign contributions. It could be that councillors that vote for expansion represent wards outside of the core, and they may perceive a need for growth in their wards quite differently to councillors from inside the city.

Ultimately, both voters and the councillors themselves need to be aware of the influence campaign donations can have on decision making. If the electorate remains silent on an issue, then a vote in favour of developers is not even controversial. In our representative democracy, developers and voters alike have the right to participate, to lobby and to donate.

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