City council campaign cash and Plan It

City council ticked off quite a few people today when it relaxed one of the main density targets in Plan It the city’s long range blueprint. Council made the decision after a weekend meeting with developers — a meeting from which the public was excluded.

That fact alone is a little disturbing but zoom out a bit and it gets even worse. Developers remember give massive amounts of money to the mayor and aldermen for their election campaigns. "That’s tradition” Mayor Dave Bronconnier said when I asked him about those donations in 2007 . “The development industry is interested in what happens at city hall."

Not only do developers hand over fat cheques to council candidates (mostly incumbents) but because of Calgary’s lax campaign finance rules they can hand over those cheques anytime they like. Under city bylaws the campaign period is defined as "the period of time between consecutive general elections." So any day of any year is technically considered part of the campaign period.

What does this mean? It means theoretically that if a developer handed an alderman a campaign contribution sometime over the last month in an effort to buy political favour that transaction would technically be legal. I’m not suggesting that this happened; I have no way of knowing whether it did or not and that’s exactly my point. Calgarians have no way of knowing important information that would help them hold their elected civic leaders to account.

If an alderman did take a cheque this month and chose to run in the next election he or she would be required to disclose the amount but wouldn’t have to say when the contribution was given. If an alderman took a donation and decided not to run again he or she wouldn’t have to report it at all. Furthermore said alderman could walk away with that cash — no matter how large the amount — and spend it however they see fit. There’s currently no legal mechanism in place to prevent any of this from happening. Calls for actual rules have been ignored.

So again: I have no idea if money changed hands between developers and politicians during the Plan It debate. And that’s precisely what’s most disturbing.

We have a right to know.