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Committee orders audit of councillor's election campaign after questioning signs and video

The city’s independent committee in charge of reviewing complaints related to municipal election financing has ordered a taxpayer-funded audit of Innes Coun. Laura Dudas’s campaign.

The election compliance audit committee on Wednesday unanimously agreed that an application for a compliance audit of Dudas’s 2018 campaign contained “compelling and credible” allegations.

The city received the application from resident Heather Buchanan, who claimed that Dudas used signs from a previous election campaign and didn’t account for them in her financial statement and accepted contributions before filing to run.

Dudas, who’s one of three deputy mayors, ran unsuccessfully for Innes ward councillor in 2014.

In her application, Buchanan pointed out that Dudas’s 2014 burgundy signs were on public and private property during the 2018 campaign. The 2014 signs were also used after the polls closed at Dudas’s election-night party. (Dudas’s new signs for 2018 were purple.)

Dudas’s election finance statement filed with the city says she didn’t use inventory from a previous campaign.

She appeared at the committee meeting Wednesday with her lawyer Gregory Meeds.

Meeds told the committee that Dudas didn’t know the 2014 signs were erected during the 2018 campaign and she didn’t authorize the use of the old signs.

The campaign had the 2014 signs removed when it learned they were erected by a supporter, Dudas told the committee.

In her application, Buchanan also referenced a “professional video” posted on Dudas’s website on the campaign launch day.

A friend of Dudas’s filmed the video a few days ahead of her filing election papers as a “test” to see how she looked on film, according to Dudas. The campaign ended up using the video after Dudas filed her election papers and she marked an $800 “in-kind donation” on her campaign finance documents.

The Ontario Municipal Elections Act compels candidates to only receive donations after filing to run in the election.

The committee was skeptical about the video and election signs.

The committee’s decision authorizing the audit pointed to Dudas possibly incurring expenses for a campaign video, or accepting a contribution related to the video, before she filed her nomination papers to run in the election.

Dudas’s 2014 election signs being used in the 2018 campaign, but not acknowledged in her finance documents, also raised red flags for the committee.

Dudas declined to comment after the committee’s decision.

Now, the city must hire an auditor to pick through Dudas’s election finances and determine if there’s a violation of the municipal election law.

It is the second time the committee has ordered an audit of a 2018 candidate’s election finances.

The campaign of Jay Tysick, who ran in Osgoode ward, is also the subject of an audit. He didn’t file a financial statement, which makes him ineligible to run in the 2022 municipal election, but the committee ordered an audit anyway. Tysick appealed the committee’s decision to the court.

There were compliance audit applications made against the campaigns of Osgood Coun. George Darouze and West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, but the committee rejected the applications.

After receiving the results of an audit, the committee decides if there should be a legal proceeding. If the committee believes there should be a legal proceeding, the city solicitor would hire an outside lawyer to review the case and provide a legal opinion on whether a court prosecution should happen.

The city last year recruited five municipal government and finance experts for the 2018-2022 election compliance audit committee.

The chair is Douglas Wallace, a former city solicitor and meetings investigator. The vice-chair, Carmelle Bédard, is a former clerk of the old city of Cumberland. Catherine Bergeron managed the city’s elections office for 10 years before retiring in 2017. Jason Huang is a professional accountant. Peter O’Callaghan is a former city auditor.

The committee must consider any application for an election compliance audit sent to the city by an elector.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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