As we move into the upcoming local government election season it is important to bear in mind that the campaign financing rules under the Local Government Act apply not only to candidates, but to elector organizations and campaign organizers as well.
An elector organization is an organization that intends to have its endorsement of a candidate included on the ballot.
A campaign organizer is an organization or an individual that undertakes or intends to undertake an election campaign that augments or operates in place of the election campaign of one or more candidates or elector organizations. For an individual to be considered a campaign organizer, the individual must also accept or intend to accept campaign contributions. An individual who undertakes an election campaign is caught by the legislation only if he or she accepts or intends to accept campaign contributions.
For campaign organizers and elector organizations, an election campaign is defined broadly to include a campaign:
- that promotes or opposes the election of a particular candidate
- that approves or disapproves of a course of action advocated by a candidate
- that promotes or opposes an elector organization or campaign organizer or their programs
- that approves or disapproves of a course of action advocated by an elector organization or campaign organizer
- in the case of a campaign organizer, that promotes or opposes the selection of a person to be endorsed by an elector organization.
A single act or statement in support of a candidate’s election would not likely qualify as a “campaign”. An individual who volunteers to assist a candidate with his or her campaign is not a “campaign organizer”. An organized series of activities in support of or opposing a candidate’s election, when taken independently of a candidate’s campaign, may well amount to an election campaign, and the individual or organization that engages in the activities would be a campaign organizer. Campaign activities would include taking out newspaper, radio or television ads, putting up signs or posters, and door-to-door canvassing. Additionally, blogging, tweeting, and texting, and the internet and social media generally, all now play a dominant role in political campaigns, and the organized use of such media by a non-candidate in the context of a local government election would likely amount to an election campaign.
Campaign organizers and elector organizations must appoint a financial agent, no matter how much they anticipate spending on the campaign, or hope to raise by way of campaign contributions.
An elector organization must deliver certain information to the chief election officer (including the legal name of the organization and the name of the financial agent) as soon as reasonably possible after it becomes an elector organization, or after the chief election officer is appointed, whichever is later. A campaign organizer is under a similar obligation, but is not required to provide the information to the chief election officer until having incurred election expenses or having received campaign contributions greater than $500.00.
Elector organizations and campaign organizers are subject to the same campaign financing rules as candidates, including the duty to file a disclosure statement with the chief election officer. Campaign organizers are exempt from the disclosure statement requirement where the election expenses incurred and campaign contributions received by that campaign organizer are $500.00 or less. Failure to file a disclosure statement may disqualify an elector organization or campaign organizer from engaging in campaign activities until after the next general local election. Failure to comply with the campaign financing rules may also amount to an offence under the Local Government Act and may expose the campaign organizer or elector organization, and their directors, officers and agents, to prosecution and serious penalties.
As individuals and organizations take a more and more active role in local politics, and seek to participate by voicing their opinions in support of or against specific candidates, local government staff may need to remind organizations and individuals of the rules that apply to these election activities.