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Audit committee clears TBM councillor’s campaign contribution

The committee determined there was no violation of campaign finance rules
Miranda Lahtinen, chair of the joint Grey County Compliance Audit Committee, reads its decision on June 1.

An audit committee examination of the election finances of a councillor for The Blue Mountains found no violations of campaign finance rules.

The decision means a contributor to Coun. Paula Hope’s reelection campaign will not face legal proceedings on the matter. Hope said the decision by Grey County compliance audit committee was an “exoneration” of herself and her contributor.

The audit committee made the ruling after a meeting and a deliberation that took most of the day on June 1 at The Blue Mountains town hall. The committee consisted of Miranda Lahtinen, Dan Sullivan and Bryan Allendorf.

The issue arose when Hope filed her campaign finances report to the municipality after the election. In the report, Hope listed a $1,500 donation for goods and services from Trevor Stooke for artwork and website services. The maximum donation allowed to a campaign is $1,200.

“My contributor and I were completely exonerated,” said Hope, who said she was grateful for the legal advice she received on the matter. “It’s been stressful. I’m so sorry my contributor had to go through unnecessary angst.”

Town Clerk Corrina Giles was required to report the possible contravention of the finance rules to the audit committee, which was then charged with meeting and determining if further proceedings were required.

At the committee meeting, Stooke was represented by lawyer Gavin Leitch, who provided an affidavit explaining the situation. In the affidavit, Stooke explained that he and his wife Kara personally contributed their time to helping with Hope’s reelection campaign. The total value of their combined efforts was $1,500 with Trevor contributing $1,050 and Kara contributing $450. In the statement, Stooke said no formal invoices were issued for the work to Hope’s campaign and he and his wife considered their contributions to be personal.

In her presentation to the committee, Hope said the situation was “an honest mistake.”

“This was a contribution from the heart,” Hope said.

The committee considered three questions during its deliberations: was the donation a corporate donation (which is not allowed), was it an actual campaign contribution and were legal proceedings required?

The committee ruled that it did not consider the contribution to be corporate in nature and noted that the committee legal counsel – Harold Elston – questioned if it was even necessary for Hope to include the item on her finance report.

“Mr. Harold Elston felt it was arguable as to whether the good and services provided by Mr. Stooke, by way of unpaid labour, should have even been considered a contribution to the campaign. (There appear to be inconsistencies in the act),” the committee’s decision states.

The committee determined that Hope reported the contribution “out of an abundance of caution” and that Stooke “inadvertently” did not provide a breakdown of the value of the services between himself and his wife.

“Understood in this way, both Mr. Stooke and his wife each individually contributed less than the $1,200 limit,” the decision said.

After hearing the decision, Hope said she would like to see candidates in local elections given more support in the future.

“I will be working towards improved training practices, especially around campaign finances, so other candidates and contributors don’t have to go through something similar,” she said.

The nine municipalities of Grey County formed the joint audit committee for the 2022 election. Eligible electors can ask the committee to review the election expenses of any candidate who ran in the 2022 municipal election within 90 days of the campaign’s conclusion. The committee then meets to determine whether or not to request an audit of the candidate’s campaign expenses.

In addition, the clerks in each municipality must submit a report to the committee should they find a possible contravention of election contribution rules on a candidate’s financial statement.

Members of the committee are paid a $1,000 ($250 per year) retainer for the four-year term of their appointment. Committee members receive $150 for any meeting that is less than four hours and $250 for a meeting more than four hours. They also receive mileage. Expenses are paid by the host municipality.

The meeting and deliberations that examined Hope’s contribution from the Stookes lasted for approximately six hours.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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