The Progressive Conservatives’ decision to enlist lobbyists to peddle $1,250 tickets to Doug Ford’s upcoming fundraiser suggests the governing party is selling access to the premier, charges Democracy Watch.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the non-partisan organization that advocates for democratic reform and government accountability, expressed concern after the Star first revealed the Tories urged lobbyists to sell tickets to Wednesday’s fundraiser.
“The PC Party asking lobbyists to sell high-priced tickets to the premier’s fundraising event shows that the Ford government is willing to sell access to the premier for cash, and to trade favours with lobbyists, in violation of the interests of the people of Ontario,” he said.
Conacher, an adjunct professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa, said the governing party will “feel compelled to return the favour by protecting the interests of the lobbyists’ clients.
“That means the public interest will be violated.”
“I can tell you one thing: no one can influence Doug Ford. No one can influence my ministers or my caucus,” he said during a trade mission to Washington.
“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 of the Toronto Congress Centre event Wednesday that should make the Tories $2 million.
“We have to run campaigns.”
As disclosed by the Star on Thursday, the Tories appealed to lobbyists for help due to the tightened rules around political fundraising introduced in 2016 by the previous Liberal government.
The ban on corporate and union donations has made selling tickets a challenge.
Until the changes three years ago, which were triggered by a Star probe of Liberal political fundraising excesses, companies could purchase entire tables for dinners and then give the tickets to employees, associates or clients.
But 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 firm run by Conservatives and Liberals, 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, 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 because he wants to continue to do business with the Tories, said there has been “tremendous pressure” on his company 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,” the consultant said.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) said Friday that “Doug Ford’s threat-based racket looks like cash-for-access on steroids.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said that “when big money gets its hands on our politics, it eats away at democracy.”
Marcus Mattinson, the PC party’s director of communications, has said “dozens of individuals have been assisting the party with fundraising for decades, and this event is no exception.”
In November, the Tories repealed a section in the campaign 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 ban on unions or corporations making donations in the name of members or employees.
That new loophole means a company or union could, theoretically, make a political contribution in someone else’s name.
The government has emphasized it only made the amendment because the disclosure form was a nuisance to contributors.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie