A total of eight sitting city councillors and some unsuccessful candidates are going under the microscope for alleged campaign finance violations. The process started last month when Viv Saunders, a Stoney Creek resident, active in the Lakewood Beach Community Council filed a complaint against Ward 10 councillor Maria Pearson. The 12 item submission questions whether Pearson accepted contributions from affiliated companies in contravention of the rules, whether some of her expenditures on a post-election appreciation party should have been charged against the spending limit, and a number of other questions. Pearson forcefully denied all of the suggestions of spending violations.
As a member of the Lakewood Beach Community Council, Saunders opposed some development projects supported by Pearson, including taking one 6-unit townhome project all the way to the OMB in an unsuccessful attempt to block it. She also filed a complaint against Pearson to the integrity Commissioner. Pearson says the Integrity Commissioner billed the city for $19,000 for the investigation that was settled this spring with a finding of no wrongdoing on the part of the councillor. As the charges were filed with local media outlets Saunders requested anonymity, and later berated local media for not publishing her charges against the councillors, stating that only one media outlet had carried the original charges—that one media outlet being the Hamiltonian, edited by Teresa DiFalco who ran against Pearson in the 2014 municipal election. In response to a question from the Bay Observer Saunders denied having supported Di Falco or any candidate in the last election.
In an interview Pearson went through the 12 allegations made against her and categorically refuted each of them. She says she “drank, ate and slept” with her financial filings before having them audited an eventually submitted to the city.” I’m not hiding anything. If it goes to a compliance audit, I don’t know what they could find.” One of the allegations speculated that Pearson should have shown signs from previous elections as inventory. Pearson says she always buys new signs with each election and destroys the old ones. Another allegation says Pearson gave $2500 in gifts to campaign workers at the post-election event which is not subject to the spending limit, stating that the gifts should count against the spending cap. Pearson insists that such gifts are allowed, but that even if they were to be charged against the spending limit she would come in well under the $21,000 spending limit for Ward 10.
A similar issue faces Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson who spent $24,000 on a post-election victory party that involved giving $200 gift cards to supporters. Saunders argues that the gift cards are a form of payment that should be subject to campaign limits. Jackson insisted the gifts are allowed. “I believe that between myself, my lawyer and my accountant that we will be able to clarify, answer and address any and all of the concerns and complaints that have forward at this time,” he told the Bay Observer.
The other councillors who are subject to Saunders’ inquiries include Councillors Chad Collins, Sam Merulla, Lloyd Ferguson, Doug Conley, Robert Pasuta and Terry Whitehead.