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Toronto auditor eyeing Fords' lack of spending disclosure - but penalties far from certain

Councillor-elect Doug Ford, left, follows Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford to a media conference at City Hall on Nov. 29, 2010.

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

If Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, an Etobicoke councillor, disobey the city council-approved policy of revealing how their offices spend money, do they face some kind of sanction?

The short answer: not yet.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation found that the Ford brothers have not submitted receipts for basic office supplies and work-related cellphone expenses they pay for themselves. While that omission appears to run counter to a council-approved guideline on the use of personal funds to finance such expenses, the policy, last updated in January, doesn't include mandated penalties, such as fines.

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Still, the practice has attracted the attention of Auditor-General Jeff Griffiths. "There's a policy and council is expected to follow the policy," he said in an interview. The rules are meant to ensure transparency, added Mr. Griffiths, who in 2007 probed Mr. Ford's expenses and discovered a similar pattern of non-compliance. Mr. Ford purchased supplies from his family company, Deco Labels and Tags, but didn't submit receipts, allowing him to declare almost no office spending.

Mr. Ford's spokeswoman Adrienne Batra declined to respond to Mr. Griffiths's comment.

The issue in this case has little to do with money, as no one accuses the Fords of extravagance.

Rather, the revelations illustrate the rationale behind rules requiring the disclosure of personally-financed expenses. According to Section 4.6 of the policy, "Councillors who pay office expenses by personal funds must disclose these expenses in the same manner as office expenditures using City funds."

Some residents applaud councillors who underwrite their own expenses because those outlays don't pose a burden to taxpayers. (In practice, however, very few councillors have adopted the Fords' approach, preferring to use public funds.) Yet absent a paper trail of receipts for such outlays, voters simply cannot determine if a member of council has allowed an interested third party – e.g., a developer or a trade union – to underwrite political expenses in exchange for favours. There's no way to determine whether they've stayed within the mandated spending limit. Nor is it clear how such expenditures are treated for tax purposes.

Mr. Ford appears not to have disclosed all of the expenses associated with running his 17-person office. For the first quarter of 2011, Mr. Ford declared that his office spent just $1,718.46, a figure that does not appear to include expenses such as the mayor's cellphone bills and office supplies. Doug Ford claimed to have spent nothing since taking office on December 1, 2010.

Disclosure documents posted to the city's website show that the Fords claim to have spent none of their own money on office-related expenses. During last year's mayoral election, Mr. Ford ran on a transparency and accountability campaign, pledging, among other things, to slash councilor expense budgets.

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The auditor-general declined to say whether his office was planning to probe the expense filings of the mayor or his brother. The issue, Mr. Griffiths said, "would come up again" if a formal complaint is made to Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper.

In an interview, Ms. Leiper said she is not at liberty to comment on specific situations. But she explained that members of the public have the right to raise concerns about the conduct of council members, either formally or informally. City policy states that a formal request for an investigation requires the complainant to swear an affidavit and provide evidence showing "reasonable and probable" grounds that council policies have been breached, she said.

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