Milton Councillor's Campaign Expenses May Be Investigated by Police

A re-election campaign from 2014 has come back to haunt a member of Milton Town Council, and now it appears the police may get involved.

In a vote of 8-2 take in a recent regular council meeting, Milton councillors voted to ask police to conduct an investigation into the election campaign expenses of Coun. Arnold Huffman after an independent compliance audit found that he had allegedly violated a number of provisions in the Municipal Elections Act.

Milton town councillor Arnold Huffman (Photo from OpenCity Inc.)

The crux of the matter is that Huffman allegedly accepted cash donations that exceeded the limit allowed under the Elections Act and that he did so knowing that they went over the limit, as well as other allegations. These allegations were brought forward by a former council candidate by the name of Mike Bugala, who ran against Huffman twice in both the previous municipal elections in 2010 and 2014.

The audit was done by Toronto accounting and audit firm Richter Advisory Group Inc., and its findings can be read in its entirety here. But here is a brief summation from the report.

It should be noted first of all, that this audit was by definition limited in scope. Under Section 81 of the Elections Act, an independent auditor conducting an audit on this matter has limited authority. The conduct of the audit is dependent on the availability and use of public information, confidential information that is available, and the cooperation of other persons. The lack of statutory authority to carry out a broader scope is also relevant, which would have given the auditor access to all books, papers, documents, or thing of the candidate and of the municipality or local boards. They would have also had the power to issue summonses and to provide protection to witnesses.

These were powers afford to an auditor if they were appointed by the town's Compliance Audit Committee, which they failed to do, hence the outsourcing of the audit to an outside party like Richter. So with such limitations, the auditors were only able to glean information in the following manner:

  • Reviewing the Municipal Elections Act, written guidance provided by Milton and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

  • Reviewed terms of reference for the Compliance Audit Committee.

  • Reviewed the Financial Statement filed by Huffman in March 2015.

  • Statements from Bugala, Huffman comprised of annotated financial statements, invoice copies from Sign 2 Go and two newspaper articles.

  • In person interviews of Huffman, Bugala, and two other Milton councillors between April and May of 2017.

Councillor Huffman made the following comments during the audit's interview with him on April 21:

  • No cash contributions were made to him

  • Five neighbours raised funds from others and wanted to contribute to his campaign.

  • Those neighbours used the funds that they had raised to pay the costs of the printer, Sign 2 Go, used by Huffman to make his election signs.

  • He had an "advisory" that "gifts-in-kind" were permitted and if somebody decides to have a fundraiser and raise funds, can contribute up to $750 of those funds.

  • He declined to inform who was his advisor or what advisory he used with respect to "gifts-in-kind", i.e. contributions of goods or services.

  • He had nothing to do with how his neighbours raised the funds and if they raised funds from other neighbours for his campaign, saying that was none of his business.

  • His neighbours had raised too much money and he told them they could only donate up to $750, hence the printer issuing a refund.

  • He informed his neighbours how to make payments to Sign 2 Go.

  • He does not know if the neighbours paid by cash or cheque.

  • There were no other documents he would provide or make available for review and he would answer no further questions.

As Huffman sat quietly in the council meeting looking on, a solicitor representing him refuted the findings. He stated that council did not have the jurisdiction to look into his client's expenses, and that this compliance audit was politically motivated by a candidate who lost twice to Huffman and the politics therefore poisoned the neutrality of the audit. But the solicitor, in a way, agreed with the narrow scope of the audit, making it seem like it was simply a witch hunt against the councillor. If there were breaches, they were an honest mistake and it would not be fair to punish Huffman.

In response, Coun. Rick Malboeuf disagreed, agreeing with the audit apparently finding some serious violations of campaign finances and donations from Huffman in 2014. Malboeuf said Huffman received more in donations than most of the others spent on their entire campaigns. The act of a politician accepting more than $25 in cash donations is considered a serious offense, and that the evidence in front of him was enough to convince Malbeuf that Huffman knowingly and willingly violated the Elections Act. A further investigation was necessary to determine if other charges needed to be laid, as well as the five other individuals named in the audit. Malboeuf believes there are more questions that the audit did not deal with due to limited mandate, such as apparent contradictions between Huffman stated he never took the cash himself, but someone who donated to him said he did know. The only way to get the fact was to hand this matter over to the police, takes it out of the political arena, in order to get the truth behind Huffman's expenses.

Huffman himself did not vote on the motion to hand the compliance audit over to the police; instead he sat abstaining. And while most of his council colleagues voted to have the matter turned over to the police, one of them has already changed his mind. Coun. John Pollard inititally voted yes to sending the matter to the police, but in a lengthy post on his website, Pollard said he came to regret his decision, believing that Huffman’s mistakes stemmed from minor errors in paperwork than any malicious intent of corruption. Moreover, Pollard offered his own interesting opinion about why Malboeuf was adamant in pursuing this case against Huffman:

With the new ward boundaries and a smaller Council for next term, I’m assuming Councillor Malboeuf is aware he is likely to run against Councillor Huffman in the next election. I don’t believe that any of this is a coincidence, and I feel like myself and other Councillors may have been used as tools to help further Councillor Malboeuf’s personal agenda.”

At the end of the day, this may indeed be just an honest mistake. But it goes to demonstrate the pitfalls of running for municipal office in Ontario; one must be extremely careful about how they raise money, especially with the new rules the province has now put in place. But even with new guidelines, some people may wish to find expediencies in order to do things easier, hence they get themselves into trouble like this.

These complexities may sound like it discourages people from running, but if you can’t follow the rules then how can you earn the people’s trust?

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