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Putting the fun back in fundraising
City Hall Watcher #250: Celebrating another milestone issue with a very charty look at the cocktail parties and fancy dinners that funded Toronto's mayoral by-election
Hey there! Welcome to the 250th issue of City Hall Watcher. That’s a lot of issues!
To mark the milestone, this one is being released free to all list subscribers and published on the web. I hope everyone enjoys. But the real heroes are the subscribers — especially those who subscribed on day one.
City Hall Watcher was a risky experiment. I was prepared for it not to last long. I was prepared for some public embarrassment. There are a lot of indie journalism efforts that fizzle out quick. But instead, readers have fuelled this thing for nearly five years. In that time, we’ve covered two mayoral elections — one was a surprise — and dozens of council meetings. I’ve analyzed hundreds of reports and published copious spreadsheets and charts. I’ve made too many jokes. But some of them were probably good jokes. Law of averages, you know.
Anyway, thank you. And if you’re not yet a subscriber but find yourself enjoying this issue, I’d love it if you’d hit the blue button and become a subscriber. It costs just $6 a month or $60 a year, plus tax. It’s a bargain and a deal.
In this issue: a return to the action-packed world of campaign finance. Financial information for all the leading candidates has finally been released, meaning we can update some previous analyses and create some new charts. This week, I am focusing on fundraising events.
For many campaigns — especially conservative-leaning ones — swanky cocktail receptions and meet & greets with business types are the financial lifeblood of their election effort. Still, most of it happens far from the public eye. Let’s try to put a spotlight on it.
This issue runs a bit long due to possibly too many charts. Readers using Gmail on the web may find it gets clipped my way through. You can read the whole thing on the web.
— Matt Elliott
Charted: the swanky cocktail parties that kept some of Toronto’s would-be mayoral contenders going
The numbers are in. Mostly. October 11 was the final deadline for the late filing of financial statements from candidates in this year’s mayoral by-election. Candidates who filed after September 11 were subject to a $500 late filing fee. Major candidates Councillor Brad Bradford, former police chief Mark Saunders and newspaper columnist Anthony Furey paid the penalty to buy themselves some extra time. (At press time, Saunders’ donors were not yet showing up on the City’s searchable database, so I OCRed them myself.)
The only remaining exceptions are candidates who applied for, and received, an additional extension. A trio of candidates took advantage of this: former councillor Rob Davis has until November 1 to file, former councillor and champion of the world’s tallest flagpole Giorgio Mammoliti has until December 10, and Councillor Anthony Perruzza has until December 11.
But since the three of them combined to secure just 4,508 votes in a race where the top two candidates both got more than 200,000 votes each, I think it’s okay to move forward with an analysis of the major candidates.
One other note: Candidates who did not file a financial statement or apply for an extension have been automatically disqualified from seeking office in the next municipal election, in 2026.
The candidate who received the most votes only to get themselves DQed is Chris “Sky” Saccoccia, who received 8,001 votes on June 26, finishing 9th.
A big ticket by-election
With the financial statements in, I wanted to focus on fundraising events, listed toward the end of candidate filings, after the often-long list of donors who gave more than $100. A lot of those donors, it turns out, gave their money as part of a swanky fundraiser.
In this by-election, ticketed fundraising events played a huge role in helping candidates make money, with some candidates — like second-place Ana Bailão — securing the bulk of their donations through revenue from ticket sales to fundraising events.
The top ten candidates who have filed statements reported a combined 73 ticketed events like cocktail receptions or meet & greets. The events generated more than $3 million for candidates.
Here are the top ten events by amount raised:
The top money maker was a dinner to raise funds for the Bailão campaign hosted at the Westin Hotel — possibly in the revolving restaurant that no longer revolves, robbing diners of the joy of eating while slowly spinning — on May 29. Her campaign sold 139 tickets at an average price close to the maximum individual donation limit of $2,500.
The shindig cost $44,098.59 to throw, with a food bill of close to $27,000 and a bar tab of $7,673.72.
Remember, these fundraising expenses are not subject to the general spending limit, so Bailão could afford to spend a lot on lavish fundraisers like this without fear that it would eat into her budget for things like advertising or staff salaries.
In that light, it’s notable just how much Bailão spent on fundraising compared to the other major candidates:
For every dollar she raised in campaign contributions, Bailão spent about 20 cents on fundraising. The contrast with Mayor Olivia Chow’s campaign is pretty striking. Chow’s financial statement lists zero ticketed fundraising events (Bailão had 26). Instead, her campaign focused on online fundraising efforts and a Direct Ask mailing, spending $104,519 to raise about $1.6 million.
You could argue Bailão’s approach was better because she ultimately raised more cash — she was the only candidate to break the $2 million barrier — but I do wonder if there’s a non-monetary cost to having a candidate spending so much time on the cocktail circuit, instead of focusing on other aspects of the campaign.
Other notable fund movers from the campaign:
Firebrand Anthony Furey raised $112,400 via a Jordan Peterson event held at Scarborough’s Guild Inn on June 11. That single event is responsible for nearly 20% of his total campaign haul, though the per-ticket average was lower than other fundraisers in the top ten.
Councillor Brad Bradford started strong with a $119,106 fundraising haul from an event hosted by developer Al Libfeld of Tribute Communities. The fundraising success dwindled toward the end of the campaign, though. If you view the complete list, you can see several Bradford events that raised relatively small amounts, including an event hosted by former councillor Karen Stintz that reported just three tickets sold and $2,625 raised, and a “Pints & Politics Rally” that rallied just eight tickets. Bradford’s campaign is still reporting a $21,571 deficit.
Former police chief Mark Saunders pursued a similar fundraising strategy to Bailão but couldn’t match her numbers. He got an early boost via a fundraiser hosted by Sheldon Pollack. Saunders also got some support from Sam Ajmera and Todd Halpern. He also reported a fundraiser hosted by Danny DiMeo with $1,200 of wine imported from Con-Nois-Seur. Nice.
How the money changed, and then the race changed
I’ve updated my chart of cumulative donations by date through to June 26’s election day.
The numbers show that the Bradford and Mitzie Hunter campaigns were not in a great spot going into the campaign’s final month. Matlow and Saunders remained strong to the end. Furey saw a major bounce, nearly doubling his monthly campaign haul in June, thanks largely to that Peterson event.
Chloe Brown again warrants mention for raising and spending very little money and still finishing with twice as many votes as Bradford, and nearly as many as Hunter. From a moneyball perspective, she crushed it.
The Xiao Hua “Edward” Gong campaign remains a mystery. He reported no fundraising expenses but raised close to $700,000, with nearly half that total coming from 905-area donors not, you know, eligible to vote for him.
Saunders and Bailão also drew heavily from the 905 for their donations.
⁉️ With the data in, let me know if you have any other questions about campaign finance and how it affected the race.
More from Matt: on Chow’s moves for better service, and the pedestrian impact of traffic agents
📰 For the Toronto Star last week, I wrote about Mayor Olivia Chow’s efforts so far to improve service quality at City Hall. Tricky to do in the middle of a budget crisis, but very important, and she’s taken some notable early steps.
🗞 For the Star this week: I do some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting and look at how the City’s Traffic Agent program is working out for people who aren’t driving cars.
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
The week at Toronto City Hall
The Board voted to make a formal request that Queens’ Park increase their share of public health funding by $21.8 million to get back to a 75%/25% provincial/municipal split. Good luck with that.
🦒 The Board of Management of the Toronto Zoo also met today. Because it ’tis the season for budget submissions, they also approved a fiscal request for 2024. They hope City Hall is cool with — and will provide funding for — a net zoo deficit of $12.9 million. The zoo is set to celebrate its 50th birthday in 2024.
TUESDAY: 📉 The Economic & Community Development Committee meets to consider a report on the shelter strategy for the upcoming winter season. It’s all pretty bleak. The report begins:
Toronto’s shelter system is full, and demand for shelter services is at an all-time high. Current demand for shelter space is so high that every night the City is unable to provide shelter to hundreds of people requesting a space.
Advocates Cathy Crowe and Diana Chan McNally have both written to the committee with feedback. Both are suggesting the City formally request the federal government to use the Moss Park and Fort York armouries as spaces for people without homes.
The committee will also consider a new capital strategy for increasing shelter spaces, which is necessary because City Hall is winding down its agreements with hotels during the pandemic. Melissa Goldstein, a longtime advocate and expert on this file, has some analysis on her new blog, which I’ve subscribed to, and you should, too.
✊🏿 The Confronting Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee meets for the first time this term, chaired by Councillor Chris Moise.
WEDNESDAY: 🚧 The Infrastructure & Environment Committee meets. They’ll consider a new Congestion Management Plan for 2023-2026, emphasizing getting more people — including police officers — to direct traffic.
The committee will also review a staff recommendation to increase the allowed fleet size for Communauto, the only company (so far) to operate under City Hall’s regulation for “free-floating” car sharing, where users can start and end trips at on-street parking spaces.
The program has been quite successful, with membership growing even as the number of allowable cars fixed at 500. The concern that these cars would sit unused for long periods, taking up parking spaces, has also proved baseless: most cars are moved after five hours or less.
Still, while staff are recommending Communauto — or any other future company that wants to operate under these rules — be permitted to increase their fleet size to 1,000 cars, they are not recommending changes to the rules that say Communauto users can’t start or end trips in neighbourhoods where there’s a waiting list for permit parking. The geofenced restrictions limit the service’s usefulness for anyone downtown.
🏆 Bid Award Panel contract award of the week: $6.7 million to resurface University Avenue and construct permanent bike lanes.
THURSDAY: 🏘️ The Planning & Housing Committee meets. They’ll consider some changes to make it a bit easier for some businesses to get permits for patios. Staff are also recommending the City drop their prohibition on retail stores having outdoor patios where they can sell goods.
The committee will also get a report with staff comments on the new provincial definition of “affordable housing.”
And credit Councillor Brad Bradford for bringing an interesting motion about studying ways some office buildings could be converted into new housing, given stubbornly high office vacancy rates.
FRIDAY: 🎡 The Board of Governors of Exhibition Place gets together.
Councillor Ausma Malik, chair of the Board, has an intriguing motion asking for a report on the potential for siting the Therme spa project at Exhibition Place instead of Ontario Place. She’s looking for a report to the December 5 meeting of Executive Committee.
The Board will also consider a capital plan for the Exhibition Grounds, with a bunch of needed maintenance work, plus $16.7 million in 2024 toward costs related to hosting matches for the FIFA 2026 World Cup. Between now and the time FIFA comes to town, the report says full renovations of BMO Field will cost about $72.7 million.
🏢 The TCHC Board caps off a busy week. Their agenda includes an item exploring the potential for tenants to make improvements to basement spaces in TCHC homes.
NEXT WEEK: Mayor Olivia Chow’s Executive Committee meets on Tuesday.
City Hall Watcher #250
Thanks for reading! From one milestone to another: I will be celebrating a birthday next week that’ll bring me to a rather round number. It’s all going to be okay. I’m pretty sure.
To give myself the space to process time and the meaning of life, next week I’ll bring you a special guest article from Damien Moule, who has big plans to keep the campaign finance analysis train rolling. See you on Monday.