A week after the court victory that kept him in office, Mayor Rob Ford is back in hot water and facing the possibility of yet more legal proceedings against him.
An audit of his 2010 election campaign spending released Friday concludes that Ford committed scores of "apparent contraventions" of both the provincial Municipal Elections Act and city by-laws.
The damaging report, prepared by Bruce Armstrong of Froese Forensic Partners, suggests that Ford exceeded his $1.3-million campaign spending limit by $40,168, or three per cent. In addition, the report documents many other apparent breaches of the law, including Ford incurring campaign expenses before officially registering as a candidate, taking out interest-free loans from a family company, accepting $6,000 in illegal contributions from corporations, and attributing $19,500 in donations to a fundraising event that never took place.
Neither the mayor's office nor that of his brother and campaign manager Councillor Doug Ford immediately responded to a request for comment Friday evening.
But in a television interview Friday before the audit came out, Councillor Ford insisted the campaign he managed was above-board.
"I just want to tell the people we ran a very transparent, clear campaign," he told City News.
As he has throughout his brother's legal troubles, Councillor Ford claimed the mayor was the victim of attacks by political opponents intent on derailing his conservative agenda.
"Why are they coming after Rob? Because they can't beat him in the election," Councillor Ford said. "So they're going to try everything they can to take him down."
But the mayor's council opponents argue that the apparent violations of campaign laws are more proof of the famously stubborn Etobicoke politician's disregard for council regulations.
"It's obvious to me they ran a pretty sloppy campaign and don't care very much about Toronto's election rules," says Councillor Gord Perks, a frequent critic of the mayor. "But Mayor Rob Ford is someone who's never really cared about the rules much."
Perks predicts it will be difficult for the mayor and his brother to shrug off the report, particularly because they've built their political reputations on presenting themselves as fiscally responsible businessmen.
"Mayor Ford and his brother... claim that the expertise they were bringing at City Hall was watching the small amounts of money," Perks says. "I'll say this much, there's a deep irony if either the mayor or Councillor Ford make any kind of claim that these are small amounts."
The report will be considered on February 25 by the city's compliance audit committee, a three-member panel of citizen experts. The committee will then decide whether or not to call in a prosecutor to begin legal proceedings against Ford.
If the prosecutor proves that Ford broke the law, possible penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, removal from office, and even jail time, although the latter is unlikely.
The audit was carried out after two Toronto residents, Max Reed and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, filed a request with the city clerk in May of 2011.
Shortly after the report was released, a lawyer representing Chaleff-Freudenthaler issued a statement on behalf of his client urging the city to press ahead with the prosecution as soon as possible.
"The audit revealed more than 100 apparent contraventions of the Municipal Elections Act, including the finding that Ford spent more than $40,000 above his legal spending limit," the statement says.
"Based on the extraordinary number and severity of the apparent contraventions of election law by Rob Ford, the applicants will be requesting the Compliance Audit Committee proceed with prosecution in a timely manner."
Chaleff-Freudenthaler also helped orchestrate the conflict of interest case that nearly led to Ford being kicked out of office last fall. A panel of judges overturned the case on appeal last Friday.
Alleged violations of election law the audit found include:
- Ford's campaign spent $40,168 over the legal spending limit
- Doug Ford Holdings covered $77,722 in campaign costs, in effect providing the campaign an interest-free loan. The law says loans must be obtained only from a bank or other "recognized lending institution."
- By providing interest-free loans, Doug Ford Holdings and another family company, Deco Labels, provided "interest relief" to the tune of $3,444 and $943 respectively, representing contributions-in-kind that were not properly recorded.
- Some campaign expenses were paid directly by Doug Ford Holdings, which then invoiced the campaign. The law says all expenses must be paid from a campaign bank account.
- 11 cheques totalling $6,000 were accepted from corporations. It is illegal under provincial law and city bylaws to take campaign donations from unions and corporations.
- 21 separate cash contributions totaling $4,400 were not returned. Cash donations greater than $25 are illegal.
- Several contributions-in-kind were not recorded as expenses, including a bus Doug Ford chartered for $840 using his Deco account, and an RV that was rented for less than half of market value.
- Owners of the Harbour 60 restaurant paid for a dinner event valued at $9,151, a contribution-in-kind that exceeds the $2,500 per donor contribution limit.
- The campaign recorded that $19,500 was raised at an event associated with former president of the Toronto Police Association Craig Bromell, but Bromell says he never hosted such an event. The audit concluded the event the money came from was likely one hosted by BILD.
- The campaign attributed $25,000 in contributions to the BILD event, but that money was apparently raised at a dinner arranged by Mike Harris. This Harris event was not reported.
- Four promotional events were misclassified as fundraising activities, and the $32,421 the events cost were not counted against the spending limit.
- $5,805 in expenses that paid for "Ford for Mayor" signs, t-shirts, a chartered bus, and campaign management software was incurred before Ford registered as a candidate.
- Wexler Productions billed the campaign for $71,167 for services at Ford's victory party, but the campaign paid only $35,000 because, according to the auditor's conversation with Doug Ford, "the campaign felt any further amounts were excessive." Wexler accepted the lower amount and waived the difference.
- Ford expensed $1,130 of personal legal fees to the campaign