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Canada Ontario PCs double up on fundraising as Ford’s debt-free leadership campaign solicits contributions

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is still raising money through his Progressive Conservative leadership campaign – despite having no debt from his successful bid – and has taken in more than half a million dollars that will be transferred to the party.

The Globe and Mail has learned that Progressive Conservative fundraisers are asking supporters to double up on donations by giving to the central political party as well as to Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign. After a leadership race is over, candidates and their supporters typically raise money to repay outstanding campaign debts. Under provincial law, contributions to a debt-free leadership bid must be turned over to the party.

Mr. Ford’s campaign has raised $528,684 since last May, when a financial statement shows the bid had no debt. Of that amount, $205,860 was donated in the first three months of 2019, according to the latest available data on Elections Ontario’s website.

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A Globe analysis found that 69 per cent of donors to Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign between January and March of this year also gave money to the PC Party of Ontario. Individuals can contribute up to $1,600 to a party annually and, in the case of parties with leadership races, an additional $1,600 to each candidate.

While permitted under the rules, observers say the practice of raising money through a debt-free leadership campaign is at odds with the spirit of the law.

"It’s a way of getting around the limit on contributions to the party, a pretty flagrant and obvious one,” said Robert MacDermid, a campaign finance expert and retired political science professor at York University.

A spokesman for the Premier referred questions to the PC Party. A party spokesman declined to comment on fundraisers’ soliciting donations for both the party and Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign.

“As outlined by Elections Ontario, any surplus which may exist on the books of a campaign ‘must be paid to the registered political party that held the leadership contest,’” party spokesman Marcus Mattinson said in an e-mail.

So far this year, donors to Mr. Ford’s leadership bid include Tourism Minister Michael Tibollo and a host of individuals with the same names as prominent figures in the province’s business circles. (A spokesman for Mr. Tibollo, who gave $1,250 to Mr. Ford’s campaign and $1,050 to the party, did not comment on the minister’s donations.)

Real estate developer and broker Brad Lamb and his brother Brett Lamb, who is also his business partner, contributed to both the PC Party and Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign after being approached by a friend.

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“To be honest with you, I’m not sure the names of who we’ve donated money to. But when we were talking to the entity that runs the fundraising for the PCs, we were directed as to who the funds are made out to when you’re supporting Doug Ford and the PC Party. My recollection is there’s two entities that can receive donations and we elected to give both those entities donations,” Brad Lamb said.

The brothers contributed $1,222 each to Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign and the same amount to the PC Party last September, according to Elections Ontario. As well, they each gave $1,250 to Mr. Ford’s bid last month and also donated $1,050 to the party earlier this year.

Registered lobbyist Chris Benedetti, who has helped sell tickets to PC Party fundraisers, informed his clients in January of the little-known rule allowing maximum contributions to the party as well as to the Premier’s leadership bid. “For the Progressive Conservatives you can donate another $1,600 for the Doug Ford Leadership Campaign (for a period of time),” he wrote in an e-mail.

Former PC leadership contenders can accept donations until May 9, which is 14 months after the date of the vote.

Health Minister Christine Elliott – who narrowly lost the March, 2018, leadership race to Mr. Ford – raised $80,966 for her campaign in the first three months of this year.

Jeffrey Kroeker, chief financial officer of Ms. Elliott’s leadership bid, said she is using the money to pay off her leadership campaign debt, which stood at $94,812 as of May 8, 2018, according to her initial financial statement filed with Elections Ontario in September.

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Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney, who placed third in the leadership race, had a debt of $124,818 but has not reported any donations since March, 2018.

Tian White, CFO of Ms. Mulroney’s leadership campaign, said she has recently started fundraising to repay her debt.

Leadership candidates must report donations exceeding $100 to Elections Ontario within 10 business days of depositing the funds.

In Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign financial statement, which covers the period between Jan. 26 and May 8, 2018, he reported contributions of $848,391.72 offset by expenses totalling the exact same amount.

Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative government raised the 2019 limit for political donations to $1,600, up from last year’s cap of $1,222, and relaxed some of the campaign finance rules brought in by Kathleen Wynne’s previous Liberal government after a fundraising scandal.

According to Elections Ontario’s website, Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign has raised slightly more than $1.2-million since he entered the race in late January, 2018, shortly after former leader Patrick Brown resigned on allegations of sexual misconduct. Ms. Elliott has raised $737,300 while Ms. Mulroney raised $849,367. The amounts do not include donations under $100.

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