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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on Elections Ontario to review donations to Doug Ford’s leadership campaign, saying PC Party fundraising through the Premier’s debt-free bid is “a blatant attempt” to get around contribution limits.

Ms. Horwath also asked Elections Ontario to force Mr. Ford to give refunds to supporters who donated more than the province’s $1,600 annual limit to a political party by also contributing to his leadership campaign.

“These donations are clearly de facto donations to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and solicitations for these donations are a blatant attempt to bypass donation limits to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario,” Ms. Horwath said Monday in a letter to Elections Ontario obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The Globe reported Monday that Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign has raised $528,684 since last May, when a financial statement shows his successful 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. Under provincial law, donations to a debt-free leadership bid must be turned over to the party.

PC fundraisers are asking donors to double up on donations by giving to the central party as well as Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign, The Globe reported. The rules allow individuals to contribute a maximum of $1,600 to a party annually and, in the case of parties with leadership races, an additional $1,600 to each candidate. After a leadership race is over, candidates and their supporters typically raise money to repay outstanding campaign debts.

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

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.

A spokesman for Mr. Ford declined comment. PC Party spokesman Marcus Mattinson said: “Our party is following the rules set out by Elections Ontario.”

Elections Ontario declined to answer questions about the PC Party’s fundraising practices. “Elections Ontario administers elections under Ontario’s Election Act and Election Finances Act and does not set policy,” spokeswoman Eleni Armenakis said.

Ms. Horwath also called for the closure of the “loophole” allowing Mr. Ford to continue to raise money through his debt-free leadership campaign.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the law should be changed to only allow leadership candidates with outstanding campaign debts to fundraise after a race is over.

Last month, the NDP asked chief electoral officer Greg Essensa to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into political parties’ fundraising practices after recent controversies. Ms. Horwath’s Monday letter asked the electoral watchdog to add PC Party fundraising through Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign to the previously requested review.

The opposition NDP and Liberals have criticized a February PC Party fundraiser and questioned whether everyone who attended the $1,250-a-person dinner bought tickets using their own funds or whether corporations covered some attendees’ costs. Corporate and union donations are banned in Ontario. The Conservatives say their fundraisers are above board.

The governing PC Party enlisted registered lobbyists to help sell tickets to their clients after initial sales for the event lagged. Several sources within companies and industry groups said they felt pressure to attend and also help sell tickets to maintain high-level access to the government, The Globe reported previously. The sources were granted anonymity because they said they feared negative professional consequences. The party denied that people were told government access could suffer if they didn’t buy tickets.

Under new rules that took effect on Jan. 1, Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative government scrapped a requirement that all individuals donating to political parties certify that contributions were from their own personal funds and that they will not be reimbursed. The government also 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.

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