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Mayor Sam's Unspent Cash

Will Vancouver mayor disclose his war chest?

By Monte Paulsen 19 Jun 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Monte Paulsen is investigative editor of The Tyee.

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Sullivan mum on money so far.

How much cash did Mayor Sam Sullivan raise on his way to losing a chance to run for mayor again? And what will he do with any left over money?

Sullivan hasn't answered those questions put to him by The Tyee. And so far no one in his party, nor any of his donors, are making a public issue of what is to become of a campaign war chest widely estimated to have recently held as much as a half-million dollars.

Sullivan's silence sets him apart from the man who beat him, Non-Partisan Association mayoral nominee Peter Ladner, and Vision Vancouver challenger Gregor Robertson. Both have pledged to disclose the sources of their campaign funds prior to the Nov. 15 election.

Mayoral spokesman David Hurford told The Tyee: "Mayor Sullivan will comply -- as he always has -- with all the rules as required."

But Vancouver's campaign finance rules are so weak that there may effectively be no law preventing Sullivan from taking his campaign secrets to the grave -- and disposing of any left-over cash in whatever fashion he chooses.

Section 55 of the Vancouver Charter states that for the purposes of campaign finance, the definition of a candidate "includes a person who accepts campaign contributions or incurs election expenses with the intention of becoming a candidate in an election, or seeking the endorsement of an elector organization for an election."

"Mayor Sullivan appears to meet the definition of a candidate," said Jonathan Baker, a municipal law expert and managing partner of Baker and Baker. "It certainly would sound like if he's raising money while he's mayor, then he's accepting campaign contributions with the intention of being a candidate."

However, no local or provincial office is charged with enforcing charter regulations involving campaign finance. And even if a candidate were somehow found to be in violation, the only penalty provided is a prohibition against holding municipal office -- hardly a fearsome punishment to someone who'd just been tossed out of office after 15 years of public service.

"My reading of the Vancouver Charter is that it is a bit of a grey area," agreed Jason Murray, who serves as secretary of Sullivan's party, the Non-Partisan Association.

"What I have had has been Mayor Sullivan's continued assurance that he is going to file in accordance with the Charter," Murray said. "Whether or not the legislation should be amended is for other people to decide."

$507 a vote?

The NPA likewise claims no knowledge of Sullivan's fundraising.

"We haven't asked for it," Murray said. "We only required our candidates to provide us the same documents they provide to the city."

But several sources within the NPA, speaking on condition of anonymity, have expressed opinions concluding that Sullivan raised roughly half a million dollars. That is also the conclusion of veteran political columnist Allen Garr, who has frequently reported on Sullivan's war chest.

"We don't know exactly how much Sam raised," Garr said. "But I as well as a number of other people have added up how many $5,000-a-plate dinners were thrown for him -- and there were quite a few of those -- as well as how many $1,000-a-drink cocktail parties, and those events would appear to have generated in the ballpark of half-a-million dollars."

Former NPA board member turned 24 Hours and CTV pundit Alex G. Tsakumis agreed.

"Reliable sources deep within Sam's circle of influence have told me that his war chest was overflowing to the tune of about a half-million dollars at the end of 2007," Tsakumis said. "I don't know how much of that he has burned off."

Sullivan's burn rate may prove the thorniest of his campaign's unanswered questions.

The mayor's chief of staff, Daniel Fontaine, told Vancouver Sun reporter Frances Bula that "he thinks that most of that has been spent now, presumably on the nomination fight and on the ongoing salary for George Higgins, who was sort of running the mayor's campaign and sort of doing caucus support at the same time."

Sullivan won only 986 votes in his unsuccessful bid to retain his party's mayoral nomination. If he really did exhaust all of his reported $500,000 on that campaign, then Mayor Sullivan spent an unprecedented $507 a vote -- likely rendering his final run for civic office as among the least efficient political enterprises in Canadian history.

Clark did not file

Six-figure nomination campaigns such as those waged by both NPA and Vision Vancouver mayoral candidates are a new phenomenon within Vancouver politics, where until just a few years ago mayoral candidates were selected behind closed doors by small groups of party insiders.

But neither the question of what Mayor Sullivan will do with leftover money nor the question of whether he must report it is without precedent.

After winding up his successful anti-wards campaign, called Knowards, a non-profit society directed by Sullivan donated $5,136 to the NPA. That donation raised calls for an investigation, but the province refused to investigate. The gift also raised questions among donors who were later asked to help pay off an alleged Knowards deficit. Sullivan has never disclosed the source of the Knowards funds.

And former BC Liberal cabinet minister Christy Clark never disclosed who funded her unsuccessful campaign for the NPA mayoral nomination, which she lost to Sullivan in the fall of 2005.

"We were not required to file. We never did file. And there was never any call for us to do it," Clark told The Tyee.

"We didn't have any money left over. We ended that race in the hole," she added. "We wound up doing a little more fundraising to pay off the bills, and that was it."

Clark, who'd come from the relatively well-regulated provincial political arena, said Vancouver's weak campaign finance laws came as a surprise.

"I was quite astonished to discover how underdeveloped the financial reporting process is in municipal politics," she said. "It's a huge, gaping hole in the public's right to know. It's like Zimbabwe."

Sullivan donors unconcerned

Clark also said she'd have done things differently if she'd had a surplus.

"I would have gone to the donors and said, 'Look, I'd like to donate your money to the NPA'... If they said no, then I would have given it back to them," she said. "I think Sam has an obligation to go to each of his donors."

The Tyee contacted two well-known Sullivan financial supporters.

Dr. Donald Rix is founder of LifeLabs Diagnostics (formerly MDS Metro). Investor Lorne R. Segal is president of Kingswood Properties. Both have served as directors of the Vancouver Board of Trade. And both threw successful fundraisers for Sullivan.

"I have no strong feelings about this," Rix said. "I'm leaving it up to Sam."

Segal said, "I'm not involved in the financial end of it. I just supported a guy I believed in."

Segal nonetheless expressed confidence in Sullivan: "I believe the right thing will be done. I assume that everything is being handled the way it should be handled."

Ladner, Robertson vow to disclose early

The two contenders for Sullivan's job have each announced they will exceed the legal reporting requirements.

Since the day he announced his campaign, NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner has promised not only to disclose the names of all his donors -- but to do so in advance of the Nov. 15 election.

"Peter Ladner will file a list of the names of those who contributed, and a reference as to the financial category that identifies the magnitude of their donation (i.e. within a specific range in dollar amounts)," explained Ladner campaign manager Bob Ransford.

"He will file on a date that allows for public disclosure through media coverage in advance of the election. No specific date has yet been set," Ransford added.

Vision Vancouver mayoral nominee Gregor Robertson has also promised to disclose his campaign finances prior to the fall election.

"I am fully committed to disclosure not only because I personally believe in it but because Vision Vancouver mandates it," Robertson said.

Unlike the NPA's don't-ask/don't-tell policy, Vision requires its candidates provide a preliminary disclosure seven days prior to the nomination meeting, and provide a complete financial disclosure statement within 30 days.

Whether or not Vision Vancouver will publicly disclose the finances of its two runners up remains unclear.

"The executive hasn't yet reviewed the preliminary disclosures and won't be making any decisions about dates or scope of disclosure until we've done so," Vision co-chair Carolyn Askew told The Tyee. "Candidates have been told, though, that we intend to be open and transparent around campaign financing."

Neither city Coun. Raymond Louie nor former Parks Board commissioner Al De Genova was available this week. But former Mayor Larry Campbell, who endorsed De Genova and supported Louie on the second ballot, said both former candidates should and would publicly disclose their campaign finances. And he said Sullivan should do the same.

"He raised a half million dollars," Campbell said. "What do you think it should be, a retirement gift from the people of Vancouver? No."

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