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Election audits skewer candidates

No one escaped unscathed from compliance audits of 2010 municipal election campaign finances in the Town of Fort Erie.

Five members of council plus an unelected candidate were found to have contravened a handful of regulations in the Municipal Elections Act.

They are illustrative of carelessness, sloppiness, confusion and ignorance.

However, the auditor also noted a couple of instances of disregard for two of the primary regulations.

Ward 6 councillor Paul Collard failed to open a separate bank account for his campaign, and mayoral candidate and former Ward 6 councillor Ann-Marie Noyes started spending money on her campaign before she was eligible.

The reports of all six will be considered by the audit committee – made up of appointees from across the Region chosen by the clerks of the 12 local municipalities in Niagara – on two evenings Feb. 28 and 29.

The committee will determine individually if the candidates’ transgressions are worthy of prosecution in Provincial Offences court and subject to a fine.

Newspaper advertising in the Fort Erie Times and the Fort Erie Post was a problem for both mayor Doug Martin and councillor Stephen Passero.

Martin paid for an ad with his personal credit card instead of directly from his campaign account and Passero wasn’t able to show receipts for payments for newspaper ads and brochures. They both had other violations.

Passero accepted a $350 donation in cash when contributions of $25 and over must be made by cheque. He also made some errors on his campaign financial statement.

Martin reported expenses for the two recounts on his financial statement when he should have used a different form. Other errors on his financial statement – which were the subject of the initial complaint – were addressed by Martin before the audit request was filed.

Councillors Hill, and Don Lubberts, along with Noyes, accepted a contribution from a U.S. resident who is not eligible to make municipal election donations.

The auditor, Froese Forensic Partners Inc., noted the candidates had no way to know that the donor’s claim that he was an Ontario resident was not true. They all refunded the $200 each when it became known.

Noyes, however, “despite repeated requests” had been unable to persuade the donor to cash the cheque. The auditor suggests she pay the money to the Fort Erie town clerk.

Lubberts has a lengthy list of violations including two other U.S. donations which he refunded after the audit complaint was filed. He didn’t issue receipts for some of the donations and he also made some small cash payments which he didn’t report on his financial statement.

Contributions from the Fort Erie Waterfront Preservation Association to Hill, Noyes and Collard were also examined.

While the non-profit corporation is not eligible to make campaign contributions, its representatives told the candidates it was, which, in the opinion of the auditor, is okay because they took “reasonable” steps to find out if FEWPA was eligible.

Hill accepted $400 in cash donations but refunded the money and got replacement cheques, and he was unable to show receipts for $40 in other cash donations.

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