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

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?  It’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.

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

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

The city of Ottawa, Canada,  has an official boundary and a greenbelt. They exist to purposefully constrain growth outside the city and encourage intensification within. In the long term, it is a more sustainable approach to city development than continuous urban sprawl. It is also more efficient. Each expansion of the urban boundary means increasing the distance that sewage and water services have to be extended, it means more road building and more demand for transit. On the other hand, there will always be a demand for low density, single family homes and there will always be people willing to commute from these homes. Developers stand ready to build what people want.

At the planning and rural affairs committee meetings, councillors were presented with three options. First, freeze all expansion and maintain the city’s current urban boundary. Second, limit expansion to just 300 hectares . Third, allow an expansion of 842 hectares (recommended by city hall staff).

Ecology Ottawa took a look at the amount of campaign cash taken from developers by Ottawa city council members in 2006. As they put it, “Ecology Ottawa hopes the acceptance of these donations does not influence how our councillors end up voting.”

Lets take a look at that. I’ve taken their figures and matched them with the votes cast by the members of the planning and rural affairs committees.

.

Freeze boundary 300 hectares 842 hectares Contributions from developers (% of total)

.

Gord Hunter n n y 49.15

.

Jan Harder n n y 39.92

.

Doug Thompson n n y 39.09

.

Rob Jellett y y n 39.05

.

Bob Monette n n y 31.79

.

Eli el-Chantiry n n y 11.15

.

Steve Desroches n n y 8.29

.

Diane Holmes y y n 0

.

Peggy Feltmate n y n 0

.

Peter Hume n y n 0

.

Glenn Brooks n n n 0

Some councillors took very large percentages of contributions from developers, while four of the councillors on the committees took no money at all. So does money line up with votes? The four that took no developer money voted no for the largest expansion. One of the four voted no for everything – no for freezing the boundary, no for the 300 hectare expansion and no for the 842 hectare expansion, for reasons unknown. Of the councillors that did recieve campaign contributions from developers, one is outstanding in his field. Rural councillor Rob Jellet voted to freeze the boundary, or to permit a small expansion to 300 hectares, but no to the largest expansion, 842 hectares.  For the six remaining councillors on committee that receieved developer money, freezing the boundary wasn’t an option and 300 hectares was not enough, but 842 hectares expansion met with their approval.

There are other factors to consider. A single analysis like this doesn’t in any way prove that money equals votes. Councillors that represent wards outside the city proper may want to see expansion and development in their communities in response to their perceived community needs, and arguments can be made for expansion that are not necessarily for the express advantage of developers. Considering that developers were pushing for a 2,000 hectare increase, and city council staff recommended an 842 hectare expansion, these votes are not all that unreasonable. But remember also, companies do what they do because they have certain expectations of success; why would developers give money to Ottawa city councillors at all?

From the Center for Responsive Politics in the US, on the recent TARP payouts:

“The companies that have been awarded taxpayers’ money from Congress’s bailout bill spent $77 million on lobbying and $37 million on federal campaign contributions, Center finds. The return on investment: 258,449 percent.”

That’s just one example of the success of lobbying and donations.

In part II, when the full council votes on the expansion, we can see if donations from developers again line up with votes.