Mayor Nenshi now believes it’s not “so dumb” to see his $5,000-a-head exclusive fundraiser as a pay-to-play affair while insisting it’s not
By Annalise Klingbeil
Naheed Nenshi defended a planned political fundraiser that offered exclusive face time with the mayor for a fee starting at $2,000, even as critics branded the event as unethical, undemocratic and hypocritical.
But late Monday night, Nenshi’s campaign team announced the cancellation of the two-hour “intimate fundraising luncheon” hosted by Kasian Architecture and scheduled for Wednesday with the incumbent mayor and just 20 guests, who were encouraged to each donate $5,000 for the mayor’s quest for a third term.
“This is an exclusive occasion. We’re encouraging a donation of $5,000, however, any amount above $2,000 would be appreciated,” stated an invitation for the mayoral fundraiser from Kasian vice-president Bill Chomik.
“(Nenshi) plans to share his vision for Calgary into the next decade, and you’ll have an opportunity to personally interact with him as well.”
In an email, Chomik said he was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
But in an email sent at 9:14 p.m. Monday, Nenshi’s campaign team said they jointly decided to cancel the fundraiser with Kasian, “due to the mischaracterization about this event.”
“The campaign very much appreciated the willingness of Kasian to support the Nenshi campaign and is disappointed about the treatment Kasian has received in its efforts to support the democratic process,” stated the email from Daorcey Le Bray of the Re-Elect Naheed Nenshi for Mayor Campaign.
Before it was cancelled, Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, a government accountability watchdog group, said the fundraiser “smells very bad.”
“Part of what you do as mayor is meet with people, and he’s selling meetings,” Conacher said.
“The access allows people, who can pay, to have influence that average voters can’t have and that’s undemocratic and unethical.”
Conacher said the event was absolutely a so-called cash-for-access or pay-to-play political fundraiser, though Nenshi adamantly disputed such claims.
“That’s an absolutely ridiculous and baseless statement,” Nenshi told reporters late Monday afternoon when asked about the event being cash-for-access.
“I mean let’s be honest here, that’s so dumb, I can’t even imagine people wanting to go there because there’s never been a mayor more accessible than this one.”
“Well, let’s see, this weekend I probably interacted with — without a word of an exaggeration, because I was at a bunch of very large Eid events — more than 10,000 Calgarians, none of whom paid a cent to hear me speak or to talk to me about it,” Nenshi continued.
The mayor said in addition to the now cancelled function on Wednesday, his team is organizing free coffee parties throughout the campaign at people’s homes and anyone who wants to meet with him can book a meeting, as long as they disclose who they are.
But Conacher said the fact Nenshi is accessible didn’t change the nature of the fundraiser at Kasian Architecture.
“Even though he meets with people for free, he is offering to meet with people who pay,” Conacher said. “The one does not excuse the other. It’s still cash-for-access.”
Fundraising and campaign expenses have exploded in recent Calgary civic elections, with much of the money coming from land developers, home builders and unions, all with their own preferred candidates.
Nenshi has long advocated for stricter campaign finance rules for what’s often referred to as a “wild west” system considered lax compared to other Canadian municipalities.
Nenshi said Monday he operates under a “much more stringent set of rules than the law actually allows,” and he releases campaign donors’ names before the election and doesn’t keep campaign surpluses.
Reaction to the $5,000-per person fundraiser was swift from several of Nenshi’s council colleagues.
“It seems rather disingenuous for the mayor to promote this kind of activity when he himself was saying the $5,000 limit was too high,” said Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot, who is challenging Nenshi for the mayor’s chair.
“I have intimate discussions with people all the time, and it doesn’t cost them anything.”
Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu, who regularly meets one-on-one with constituents and pays the cost of beverages out of his own pocket, said the exclusive fundraiser “looks really, really bad” and is hypocritical.
“People don’t like hypocrites,” Chu said.
Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca said he didn’t understand what Nenshi was thinking.
“How well did it work for the Liberal government? They got their hands slapped and here our mayor is doing that,” he said.