What's in it for the volunteer lobbyists of Toronto's mayoral campaigns?
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Some campaign volunteers in the Toronto mayoral election answer phones and deliver lawn signs—others have special skills and connections.
Take Warren Kinsella, for example, a professional political strategist, columnist, lobbyist and a volunteer for Olivia Chow’s campaign.
He recently took offence to the suggestion he was being paid for his work, telling a tweeter who suggested he did: “I'm not getting paid a red cent, asshole.”
However, he’s also president of Daisy Consulting Group, which is getting paid by the campaign.
According to Chow’s communications director Jamey Heath, Kinsella gives the campaign “a hand with rapid response,” and Daisy is getting paid for media monitoring.
Kinsella has indeed been active on Twitter and traditional media for Chow. For example, before either John Tory or Chow officially launched their campaigns, he was circulating the story about Tory telling women it would help close the gender gap if they’d learn to play golf. Later, he was tweeting details about Tory’s lucrative relationship with Rogers Communications.
This week, he interviewed Chow on Sun News Network.
York University professor Robert MacDermid, an expert in campaign financing, said Kinsella’s assistance on Chow’s campaign appears “quite legal” and not uncommon.
MacDermid said he understands why Chow would accept the help. “You have the free services of Warren Kinsella that are worth thousands and thousands of dollars on the open market. Under the silly rules of the Municipal Elections Act it counts as nothing, so why wouldn’t you take that? The answer is you’re perpetuating this appearance of relations of influence that are undemocratic.”
While offering services to campaigns below their market value is considered a campaign contribution and falls under the cap on contributions, the Municipal Elections Act allows for volunteers.
Typically, a professional would volunteer their services as a loss leader “in hopes that when the candidate attains office they will benefit from the connection,” said MacDermid.
“That’s why so many people who work at the core of campaigns are people who work in the lobbyist industry,” MacDermid said. They do it for free, because they hope to be able to easily get access to that decision-maker to present the case of the client they represent, he said.
When a lobbyist is affiliated with a campaign and that person is elected, it is a draw for potential future clients who need lobbying assistance, said MacDermid.
“It’s a wonder we don’t have rules to stop this,” he said.
For his part, Kinsella said he’s volunteering for Chow “because she is a wonderful person, a terrific candidate, and the only person who can beat Rob Ford.”
Kinsella said that Daisy Consulting Group’s lobbying isn’t at the city hall level.
“I believe I have registered there only once, for an NGO that is concerned about health impacts of wireless technology and cellphone towers. I registered for the purpose of speaking to a councillor, but did not ever actually speak to him,” he said.
Heath said Kinsella offers advice to the campaign, but doesn’t run it and doesn’t take direction on what he writes and tweets.
As for whether or not Kinsella’s help should be considered a campaign contribution with a monetary value, rather than the work of a volunteer, Heath said, “I’m assured that what I’ve described to you is consistent with the legislation. People will look at the campaign when it is over and I’m pretty sure that we will pass.
“I don’t see why Warren (Kinsella) would be any different than (Tory campaign co-chair) Bob Richardson or any number of political strategists who are listed in any number of media stories about all the campaigns,” he said.
Chow’s campaign isn’t the only one to benefit from volunteers who are also lobbyists.
Richardson, a volunteer co-chair of Tory’s campaign, is president of the Devon Group. Volunteer campaign co-chair John Capobianco is Fleishman-Hillard’s national lead for public affairs.
"Like any campaign we have dozens of people working here, some of them lobbyists. When they're working on the campaign they are not here in their capacity as lobbyists, they are volunteers," said Tory's campaign spokesperson Amanda Galbraith.
Karen Stintz adviser Karl Baldauf works at NATIONAL Public Relations, and while he has registered as a lobbyist at the provincial level in the past, he considers himself primarily a communications professional, said Stintz's spokesperson Lauren Souch.
David Soknacki’s paid press secretary and spokesperson Supriya Dwivedi works part-time for Crestview Strategy. She said Soknacki has a policy on lobbyist contact during the campaign: the campaign team is to publicly disclose any meetings he has with lobby groups, civic employee unions or consultant lobbyists acting on a behalf of a client, in the spirit of the Lobbyist Bylaw, even though it doesn’t apply to candidates for office.
As for incumbent Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Coun. Doug Ford is his campaign manager.
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