Mayor Rob Ford's office says efforts to raise money from city hall lobbyists for the mayor's personal football foundation were "inadvertent," and is pledging to return any donations received because of the error.
"It is our understanding that the Football Foundation makes every attempt to remove registered lobbyists from its mass mailing lists," said Mr. Ford's chief of staff, Mark Towhey, in a statement issued Thursday. "If errors were made, they were inadvertent."
Mr. Towhey's remarks follow the discovery that at least one individual who is registered as a lobbyist at city hall has received a letter from Mr. Ford asking for money to support his efforts to provide football equipment to Toronto high schools.
Andy Manahan, the executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, met with two councillors and city staff at various times this year and last, according to the city's lobbyist registry.
Contacted Thursday, Mr. Manahan confirmed he received a letter on January 28 from The Rob Ford Football Foundation asking for support. The letter, which includes a headshot of the mayor, notes that it takes $400 to outfit a single football player and lists the Toronto schools that have benefited from the charity. It arrived just days after Mr. Ford won his appeal on conflict of interest charges.
Asking lobbyists for money for his private charity was the very thing that got the mayor into trouble in his recent conflict-of-interest case.
In that instance, the city's integrity commissioner took Mr. Ford, then an Etobicoke councillor, to task for using his office letterhead to ask for donations and accepting money from lobbyists. In that instance, Mr. Ford got into further trouble when he spoke and voted at council on a motion to let him off the hook.
The a long legal battle that ensued placed Mr. Ford's job in jeopardy and only ended last month when he won his appeal.
Given this, several councillors said Thursday the mayor should know better than to continue to ask lobbyists for money.
"I just think this is bad judgment and timing," said Councillor Josh Colle. "Considering what we've been through, you just might want to take a pause on that. Everyone is giving a lot of lip service to lessons learned and moving into new eras and I don't think [this incident] shows that."
Councillor Karen Stintz, the target of recent attacks by the mayor for her handling as TTC chair of a contract for newsstands in subway stations, noted that the letter was not on the mayor's official letterhead.
Still, she said the mayor might want to distance himself further when it comes to asking for money.
"While the football foundation is a worthy charity, perhaps the mayor needs to take a step back and not be the chief fundraiser," she said. "I think the mayor might want to give some thought to how he solicits donations."
Mr. Towhey said the foundation "will review and look for ways to improve its processes," adding,
"In any case, it is our understanding that the Foundation has not received any donations from lobbyists and it is Foundation policy to return such donations if they were to be received in error."
But even that statement raised a red flag with one councillor, who noted that Mr. Towhey, as a city staff member, should not be issuing statements for the mayor's private foundation.
"You can't use city resources to raise money for your private charity," said Councillor Gord Perks, a critic of the mayor.
Mr. Perks said if nobody else takes action, he will complain about the letter to the integrity commissioner.
"The healthy functioning of government depends on both the fact and the perception that you are not selling influence at city hall."