Thursday, September 7, 2006

Why running a website may disqualify you from local politics

With local elections just around the corner in Ontario, people are starting to wake up to the fact that the terms of office are now four years and not just three. With Sponsorgate still in the minds of a lot of us, we too are looking for ethical candidates who play by the rules. Hence, Fred Eisenberger's challenge to Larry DiIanni for Mayor of Hamilton, who last month pleaded guilty to several counts of illegal fundraising in the last campaign. He got off with a small fine, which is peanuts compared to the maximum penalty which would have been expulsion from local offices for life.

Thank a pluckly little lady from the Dundas district named Joanna Chapman, who made a point of going through the financial records of each and every candidate for possible improprities. Although Chapman alleged fraud, in DiIanni's case, it was probably more of a case of improper procedure than anything else; but he did accept donations from a couple of cement companies with different names but which in fact are divisions of the same global corporation. Under the rules, they're counted as one company and may only donate once.

We need people like Chapman. But I wonder if this time someone has gone too far in their zeal to apply the "rules."

The City of Hamilton is now investigating Eisenberger for violating the rules right out of the gate. Eisenberger announced his candidacy yesterday, a Wednesday. However, it seems, his website was actually up on Tuesday. By law, a candidate cannot raise funds until he or she registers his or her nomination papers; nor it seems can they spend any money on the campaign either. If that's the case, Eisenberger could be disqualified from the ballot by the mere act of running a beta test on a dummy website to see if it was working before he had his press conference.

Does this actually mean one cannot register a website, say he or she is going to get a website, even do some surfing or calling an ISP to see how to set one up, without filing a candidacy first? If so, this gives a potential third party (who doesn't have to register at all) plenty of time to squat a preferred web address that winds up criticizing the original candidate.

It's a violation of freedom of expression. And the City of Hamilton should so rule. Let Eisenberger, DiIanni and perennial candidate (and pothead) Michael Baldasaro duke it out in cyberspace as they wish. A window of three to five days to get things started should be fair. Actually fundraising on a website before becoming a candidate should, of course, be illegal. Running a website itself should not be.

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