Mayor Rob Ford won’t be facing any prosecution over a compliance audit of his 2010 election expenses, despite having been found by auditors to have overspent his limit by three per cent.
The city’s compliance audit committee voted 2-1 not to proceed with charges Monday afternoon, after hearing from lawyers for Ford and for a citizens group who had brought the initial complaint forward in 2011.
The citizens, Adam Chalef-Freudenthaler and Max Reed, said Ford’s campaign had improperly borrowed money from a family holding company, Doug Ford Holdings, to the tune of $70,000. As well, they said the campaign had accepted some donations improperly and began spending on the campaign before Ford had registered as a candidate.
They also said he had received donations in-kind in the form of a deal on the rental of a motor home for campaign uses, and at several fundraisers.
The resulting compliance audit found that on the basis of some of these complaints, the campaign had overspent by $40,000 – or three per cent.
Lawyer Heidi Rubin argued they would be giving the mayor a “very generous benefit of the doubt” if they didn’t send the matter to a prosecutor. She pointed out it would be in the public interest to prosecute Ford.
“When a fifth-time candidate violates election laws... it must be in the public interest to see the matter forward to prosecution,” she said.
Ford’s lawyer Tom Barlow argued that any contraventions were more in the manner of filing errors, and that the public interest would not in fact be served by prosecuting – particularly when it seemed likely there would be significant penalty even if Ford were to be found to have contravened the Municipal Elections Act.
And he slapped down Rubin’s argument that Ford ought to have known about the election spending rules as they applied to a mayoralty race.
“When the applicant says the mayor is an experienced candidate: yes he is, but for council,” said Barlow. But Ford was “still a rookie” when it came to running a mayoral campaign.
He said a mayoralty campaign is like none other in the country – with the mayor receiving more votes than the Prime Minister does.
Barlow also pointed out any lessons about election spending have already been learned.
“The media has made sure everybody who cares to know, knows about what’s happened,” he said. “The likely consequence of this would only be a fine.”
The three-member committee was not unanimous. Member John Hollins, a former Ontario chief electoral officer, moved a motion to commence legal proceedings immediately – but both other members refused to even second the motion.
Finally, the committee voted to receive the report and take no further action – effectively ending the matter for the mayor.
Mayor Ford and his brother Doug Ford, who served as campaign manager, watched the proceedings silently. Later, in the mayor’s office, Ford delivered a prepared statement before leaving without taking questions from the press.
“Obviously I’m very pleased with the compliance audit committee’s decision,” he said. “I’m happy the process is finally over. I’m happy the committee understands we ran a clean, professional, above-board campaign. We made every effort to comply with all the rules; every time there was any doubt, we asked for clarification.”
Ford thanked his family and his lawyer, and singled out his brother Doug.
“I’d like to thank my campaign manager, my brother, my best friend. Doug, you led us through this process. We couldn’t have done it without you,” he said. “It’s been a heavy burden on you.”
For his part, Doug Ford said he was glad the matter was over, and characterized the applicants as simply pushing a political vendetta.
“It’s the same folks coming after us day in and day out,” he said. “It’s the same group. We have one task at hand, which is to make sure the city is going to be run the way we’ve been running on it – focusing on reducing the debt.”