Mayor Meghan Lahti has been fined $200 by Elections BC for paying for campaign phone-call promotions which contravened the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act (LECFA).
Elections BC received a complaint on Sept. 26, after a resident received a promotional call two days earlier, stated an Elections BC’s notification letter to Lahti.
The complainant, Dave Hall, had also contacted the Dispatch regarding the phone calls, stating he was concerned about outside influence in the local election.
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“It sounded very scripted,” Hall wrote via email. “(It) certainly didn’t sound like it came from a phone bank operated by local campaign volunteers.”
Although it was a local number, Hall said when he called the number back he was forwarded to a Toronto-based firm offering campaign support and voter-contact solutions.
There was no indication whether Lahti’s campaign or a third party was paying for the phone calls, according to Hall.
LECFA requires a candidate’s ads to identify their financial officer, their authorization of the ad, and provide their contact information.
Hall later blogged about his concerns.
An Elections BC Compliance officer contacted the Lahti campaign on Oct. 4. A campaign representative confirmed they were paying for sponsored person-to-person calls, but not automated robocalls.
The officer initially communicated to Lahti’s campaign that person-to-person calls did not require authorizations, but called to correct himself the next day on Oct. 5.
Lahti’s campaign then discontinued the phone advertisements.
The case was forwarded to the Elections BC investigation team, who requested invoices and copies of the scripts being used.
Investigators found that Lahti had spent $3,654 for 100 hours of person-to-person phone advertising which did not identify the financial agent or provide contact information.
“The advertising phone calls clearly promoted you as a candidate for the Mayor of Port Moody, and they occurred during the pre-campaign period, and they were sponsored ads,” stated Director of Investigations Adam Barnes.
The ads did not identify your financial agent, or provide a BC phone number, a BC address or an email address to contact them, as required in section 44(1) of LECFA.”
‘Online posting / drama’
Lahti’s campaign manager Dave Teixeira posted on a local Facebook group on Oct. 6, attacking Hall over the complaint and his blog post.
“Dave Hall is misrepresenting the truth and there is no ‘investigation’ by Elections BC into the conduct of Meghan Lahti’s campaign. He is upset that his complaint from two weeks ago has received zero traction,” Teixeira wrote.
“We followed the direction from Elections BC and are onside, (Hall) believes we did not and are not,” he wrote. “All of this online posting / drama could have been avoided if (Hall) had contacted me directly … But that would not have been as juicy as posting misinformation in support of his preferred candidate for mayor and his slate.”
Teixeira explained the campaign used the Ontario-based company to save time and money, and to be more efficient.
He said that Hall’s assertion that an investigation had started was false, and that every complaint is forwarded to Election BC’s investigation branch for review.
Lahti’s financial agent, Anthony Sandler, weighed in on Oct. 7, adding that every phone call identified the campaign and provided contact information.
Teixeira said that Hall’s assertion that an investigation had started was false, and that every complaint is forwarded to Election BC’s investigation branch for review.
Barnes noted that the calls were not likely to mislead a voter into thinking they were sponsored by another individual or organization, it was an inadvertent error, the campaign immediately ceased the ads, and Lahti has never been the subject of a monetary penalty before.
However, he also noted it was a larger ad campaign, and Lahti should be aware of local advertising requirements, having participated three times before as a candidate.
Teixeira made a submission to Elections BC stating that the election advertisements were not clear relating to person-to-person sponsored calls, noting the complaint officer’s initial mistake.
Barnes stated that the local election financing guide sent to her campaign on Sept. 15 clearly states the requirement.\
[Update, Dec. 15: Teixeira contacted the Dispatch stating that, in fact, the official Elections BC investigation did not commence until Oct. 20.]