Bill Smith’s donor stance is a throwback to bygone era

Since 2007, most mayoral contenders have revealed their donors pre-election.

The Sprawl

Mayoral candidate Bill Smith’s refusal to disclose his donors before Election Day makes him an odd man out in modern Calgary politics.

In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s—and well before that—it was normal for candidates of all political stripes to keep their donors under wraps until after the election, when they were required to disclose by law.

In this campaign, mayoral incumbent Naheed Nenshi has posted his donor list online, challenging other candidates to do the same. Andre Chabot hasn’t posted his yet, but has said he will—albeit a partial list that doesn’t include donors who have asked to remain anonymous.

Since the 2007 election, only one contending mayoral candidate, Jon Lord in 2013, hasn’t disclosed donors before Election Day. Lord, the former councillor and MLA who passed away in 2014, garnered 21% of the vote.

In 2010, with former mayor Dave Bronconnier stepping down, Naheed Nenshi, Barb Higgins and Ric McIver all released donors before election day, albeit with varying levels of detail.

McIver, the most conservative of the trio, was the first to release his donors—a point of pride for him. His list was also the most detailed.

That 2010 election, which Nenshi won, heralded a significant shift in the way candidates handle pre-election donor disclosures.

Bronconnier never revealed a pre-election donor list in the 2000s (much to the chagrin of Nenshi, who moonlighted as a council watchdog at the time). Neither did all the contenders running against him.

Well, almost all.

In 2001, former councillor Bev Longstaff surprised everyone by releasing her list before Election Day during her mayoral run. Longstaff nearly won, too, getting 26% of the vote, just shy of Bronco’s 28%.

“Now, here’s something truly original — a candidate for mayor releases a list of all her contributors during the campaign,” wrote Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid at the time. “In more than 20 years of covering elections at all levels, I’ve never seen such a thing.”

“Candidates always wait until electoral laws force them to reveal contributions, long after the election is safely over. During the campaign, they protect their contributors’ list like the crown jewels.”

“They don’t want opponents to hit up their prized donors, and they also fear the unveiling of any embarrassing connections.”

In those days, you were an outlier if you ran for mayor and revealed your donors pre-election. Today the opposite is true.

Smith, a lawyer and former PC president, has been clear that he won’t release his donors before election day.

“No,” he said on September 24, when asked directly if he’d reveal his donors before Election Day. “We’re following the rules to a T.”

Smith spokesman Rick Donkers reiterated that position in an email Wednesday.

“Bill’s position has not changed. The rules were well established prior to the election and we will follow them.”