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.
A fundraiser to raise the capital to pay off Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s $300K legal bill resulting from a defamation suit filed against him in 2013 is looking more and more like a veiled election campaign.
Donors can contribute up to $10,000 and will receive a charitable tax receipt.
So far, over $200,000 has been raised.
Watch as I explain how Mayor Nenshi racked up the fees defending himself in a lawsuit filed by businessman and homebuilder Cal Wenzel after Nenshi made some careless comments about him.
The suit was settled out of court in 2015, but the bill remains. Council voted that the City should pay the bill, but that the Mayor should eventually pay it back, hence, the fundraiser put on by Nenshi’s friends.
Did I mention that those who donate will get a charitable tax receipt?
Not only will people get a tax break, but he gets his lawsuit paid off and a neatly packed up campaign list to target his loyalists for the upcoming municipal election this year.
No other candidate gets these perks.
Any way you look at this, it’s a win-win for Nenshi and his pals, but it looks terrible.
The Mayor of Calgary gets to play by his own special set of rules.
The only question is, what are his friends expecting in return?
The current Calgary mayor is seeking a third stint in office.
Nenshi said he wants to tackle the challenges facing the city, including high unemployment and uncertainty, and to build a more "resilient and diverse economy."
Nenshi was first elected in 2010.
The first stage of the project will not service the already-densely populated north-central Calgary