The first political fundraiser since the Progressive Conservative government loosened campaign finance rules is a decidedly modest affair.
Premier Doug Ford will attend a $25-a-plate spaghetti supper in Kitchener-Waterloo on Friday night.
Billed as an “open for business, open for jobs” dinner, the sold-out event is being held at Kitchener’s Bingemans Conference Centre.
The Tories are expecting about 200 supporters to attend.
It is significant because it’s Ford’s first official political fundraiser since his government amended the previous rules introduced by former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
Under Wynne’s restrictions, which were put in place after a 2016 Star exposé into Liberal fundraising practices, all MPPs, candidates, and staff were forbidden from attending events where money was raised for political parties.
The Tories, who toppled the Grits last June, amended that campaign finance legislation in November’s Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act.
While Finance Minister Vic Fedeli retained the Liberals’ ban on corporate and union donations, some loopholes were reopened.
Fedeli repealed a section of the previous electoral finance reform bill that forced donors to “certify, in a form approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, that the person has not acted contrary” to the prohibition on unions or corporations making donations in the name of members or employees.
Both Conservative and Liberal fundraising experts have privately admitted that’s a loophole all political parties could exploit.
“If you don’t fill out a disclosure form, then what’s to stop a corporation donating on your behalf?” a veteran Liberal confided last fall, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
“It was the only thing in the act that required any threshold of activity on behalf of a donor to prove that a corporation wasn’t funnelling money through the backdoor,” the Grit said.
A veteran Tory, who also requested anonymity, quipped “it’s a loophole you could drive a Brink’s truck through.”
However, the government has maintained that filling out the disclosure form was a nuisance and emphasized that accepting cash from a corporation or union to donate as an individual is still illegal.
Ford’s administration has also said the provincial changes match existing federal campaign laws.
In the 2016 legislation , the Liberals said donors would have to certify in writing that they did not donate “funds that do not actually belong to the person; or any funds that have been given or furnished by any person or group of persons or by a corporation or trade union for the purpose of making a contribution.”
Fedeli’s changes will also phase out the public $2.71 per-vote subsidies for political parties before the 2022 election.
The governing Tories, who received more than 2.3 million votes, get almost $6.3 million annually, while the NDP receives $5.2 million, the Liberals around $3 million, and the Greens about $700,000.
To help the parties cope with the eventual end to that subsidy, annual donation limits will rise to $1,600 from $1,200 within two years.
Prior to the 2016 reforms, individuals could donate up to $9,975 to a political party each year.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie