Speaking to reporters in Washington, Ford defended the PC party for seeking the help from lobbyists to peddle tickets to the leader’s dinner scheduled for Wednesday at the Toronto Congress Centre.
“We’ve put fundraisers together that are $25 spaghetti dinners as you know, so we have the freebies, we have the $25 fundraisers, and then we have the big fundraiser,” the premier said Friday of an event that should clear $2 million for the governing party.
“We have to run campaigns.”
But Ford emphasized that lobbyists have no sway in his administration, whether they sell Tory tickets or not.
“So they can come, they can support us, it’s no different. Lobbyists are here, the lobbyists are in Canada, they want to get their point through, good luck to them. But we’re going to do the right thing for the people.”
As first disclosed by the Star on Thursday, the Tories asked lobbyists for help due to the tightened rules around political fundraising introduced in 2016 by the previous Liberal government — including a ban on corporate and union donations — that make it challenging to sell tickets.
Companies could once purchase entire tables for such dinners and then give the tickets to employees, associates or clients. Now, each ticket must be paid for by an individual.
In an email appeal to clients obtained by the Star, Chris Benedetti, a principal at Sussex Strategy Group, a prominent firm run by Conservative and Liberal lobbyists, said the company “has been asked to help with the event.”
“The event is $12,500 for a table of 10 ($1,250/person). To reserve a table please let us know and we can assist you in assembling individual registrations to then be sent in as a package,” he wrote.
Benedetti, who is registered to lobby for 60 different companies at Queen’s Park, said he was contacted by the PC Ontario Fund last month.
“I have not spoken to anyone in the premier’s office about this event, and no one in the office or any other government office has been in touch with me to encourage sales or otherwise,” he said.
Another lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was “tremendous pressure” put on his firm to sell tickets.
“You’re really made to feel that you’re not pulling your weight if you don’t sell a table or two,” he said.
Marcus Mattinson, the PC party’s director of communications, said “dozens of individuals have been assisting the party with fundraising for decades, and this event is no exception.”
Last fall, the Tories quietly opened a loophole in the electoral finance reform bill by repealing a section that forced donors to “certify, in a form approved by the chief electoral officer, that the person has not acted contrary” to the ban on unions or corporations making donations in the name of members or employees.
The change means that a company or union could theoretically make a political contribution in someone else’s name.
But the government said it only made the change because the disclosure form was a nuisance to contributors.
Ford noted Friday that his government’s rules “match” the federal campaign finance laws.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie