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Metro column: Political snowball effect: presenting a case study

By DJ Kelly December 10, 2010

It’s the age old political conundrum, no politician wants to be seen as beholden to anyone – especially a big company – but they still need to pay the bills that come from running an election campaign.

When accepting donations, it’s a delicate balance that each elected official pays an awful of attention to — just in case anything even looks like it could be unseemly-esque.

To that end, politicos usually do everything they can to build a public wall between the donors and the candidate to ensure everything passes the “smell test.”

Placing a big corporate logo at the top of an invitation to a fundraiser and listing that company as a “sponsor” is pretty much the exact opposite of building that wall.

Unfortunately this is exactly what rookie Alderman Peter Demong did this week.

To make matters worse, the company in question operates a private landfill in Demong’s Ward 14 and currently has an application before the city to extend their lease.

While Demong doesn’t have any direct say in the future of the dump, he and his office will naturally act as middle man, fielding resident concerns.

To not only accept a donation from the company, but to prominently display its logo on an official notice causes some residents to question whether their alderman can remain neutral.

Compounding the speculation, when the Calgary Herald asked Demong about the sponsorship, he indicated he was “too busy to comment.” Something no resident ever wants to hear from someone representing them.

Furthering the problem is that Demong’s assistant was not too busy to comment. He was ready to step around Demong’s authority and comment on his behalf to the press, creating a bigger news story and leading pundits to wonder who’s actually running Ward 14.

It’s one mistake after another, compounding something potentially innocent — a plain-jane donation — into something more than it needed to be.

All of this could have been avoided if the donation had just been the purchase of a table instead of a “title sponsorship” and the name hadn not  appear edanywhere except the election financial statements.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting any impropriety.

After having briefly met Demong and seeing his behaviour during council’s first month, he certainly appears to be an upstanding representative.

Let’s hope he can fix the appearance of wrongdoing in this case to ensure none of the goodwill our new council is slowly rebuilding is undone, and that all in council learn from this boneheaded example.

Original: http://www.metronews.ca/calgary/local/article/715979–political-snowball-effect-presenting-a-case-study

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  • Craig B. Chandler

    This is a very irresponsible media piece. I was asked by Alderman Demong as his assistant to respond to the media as i was organizing the dinner.

    To write that I was “…ready to step around Demong’s authority and comment on his behalf to the press…” is yellow journalism at best. If you actually called us to verify the facts you would have been properly informed. Unfortunately, DJKelly has never been known for caring about the facts.

    Also Sponsorships are common in the politcal world.

    Craig B. Chandler
    Community Assistant
    Alderman Peter Demong

    • a) What I write for my Metro column isn’t meant as “journalism”; it is an opinion column. And an opinion cannot be wrong, only ill-informed. In my opinion, I’m not ill-informed on this topic as it’s not meant to be about this specific instance, but instead only used as an example of how slippery the slope can be for elected officials. (Hence why I did not name the assistant, nor the company involved, nor many of the specifics). Obviously in your opinion you believe it to be a piece about the opposite: the specific instance and not the general example. That’s fine. As I said, opinions can’t be wrong, only ill-informed.

      b) In my opinion no assistant should comment to the press on the behalf of an elected official because they are not the elected official. (Thus not making them “official”.) This is what I mean by “step around Demong’s authority”. The authority in question is that which the voters gave the alderman during the election, not the authority the alderman gave his assistant. If the alderman did indeed instruct an assistant to function on his behalf – instead of fulfilling the regular report-back function of an assistant – this would, in my opinion, show another layer of mistakes in the “snowball”. Just like commenting on a blog using an official title could be. 😉

      c) If you were commenting to the press as Ald. Demong’s assistant because you were organizing the dinner (as you say in your first sentence you were), I have another important question: why is someone organizing a fundraiser while being paid by taxpayers? This seems highly unethical to me and I’d suggest warrants investigation. I had assumed the assistant and fundraiser roles were separate, but you indicate they were one and the same.

      d) I’d hope to fit this in the column, but I ran out of space, so I’ll add it now. I know sponsorships are somewhat common in the world of political parties. This is because the party itself adds a layer of protection between the official and the sponsor. Without this layer available, municipal politicians have to be even more careful that the perception isn’t seen differently than their intention. Because municipal candidates cannot issue tax receipts the Revenue Canada differentiation between a sponsor and a donor does not apply thus compounding the difficulty in distinction and handling.

      e) If you care to provide example of past instances showing ” DJKelly has never been known for caring about the facts,” I’d be happy to explain my thought process on these issues too. Otherwise I’ll assume this statement is hyperbolic political posturing and ignore it accordingly.

      • Craig B. Chandler

        What I do in my own time on the weekends is none of your business.

        Craig B. Chandler

        • Agreed. But what you do as an employee of the City of Calgary very much is.

          • Craig B. Chandler

            Agreed!

            Which is why at City Hall, my only job is to service constituent issues and no political action or fundraising etc…. ever occurs at City Hall. No emails are responded to from City Hall or phone calls that are not related strictly to Ward 14 business.

            Even when I conducted the interview it was not at City Hall and on a day off that was scheduled..

            Feel free to call me directly next time so you can have a more educated opinion.

            Anyways, I am only at City Hall for some transitional help. I will be leaving some time in 2011.

            Craig B. Chandler