Declaring many questions remain unanswered, a committee reviewing Woolwich councillor Scott Hahn’s election expenses determined this week there are grounds for an audit.
Members of the region’s Municipal Election Compliance Audit Committee (MECAC) were quick to point out the decision had nothing to do with the Ward 1 representative’s character, but with the incomplete paperwork he had filed. Hahn had opened Monday’s meeting testifying to his integrity and citing his time as a soldier in Afghanistan as an indicator of his respect for democracy.
“I admitted a mistake, and have done everything in my power to correct it,” Hahn told the committee, expressing anger at Dan Holt, a fellow candidate in last fall’s election who brought forward the request to review Hahn’s expense filing.
Hahn accused Holt of angling to get the Ward 1 seat, as the process could see the councillor removed from office.
In addressing the committee, Holt concentrated on the incomplete filing by Hahn, questioning the completeness of even the new figures provided by Hahn.
The new statement of expenses related to the election — $3,072.66, up substantially from the $258.40 Hahn claimed originally – showed expenses paid by the Tri-Mach Group, owned by Hahn’s father, Michael Hahn. The cost of signs printed for $1,751.50 was then billed in equal thirds to Hahn’s father, mother and sister. As well, brochures and flyers were printed at a cost of $962.76, split evenly between his father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Split like that, no one person contributed more than the legal maximum of $750 to his campaign.
The revised filing only created more questions for the seven-member committee, however.
“Even with an amended document – which is quite extraordinary – we’ve seen questions that certainly I have … that really only can be revealed to our satisfaction through an audit,” said Bob Williams, who quickly tabled a motion calling for an audit. He noted the new filing raised yet more questions.
That was Holt’s contention earlier as he addressed the committee, requesting an audit to get to the bottom of expenses channelled through Hahn’s family. He also noted the filing did not account for other costs such as the poles used to support Hahn’s many signs.
Richard Clausi, an Elmira resident with experience running federal election campaigns, also called for an audit, pointing to what he called incomplete expense filings. Hahn’s report did not contain proper numbered invoices and dates, nor did it account for a range of other expenses associated with signs alone, he argued.
“If not for this investigation, the false and incorrect signed returns – three and counting – could camouflage a possible massive over-contribution.”
Omissions were very much on the mind of committee member Larry Aberle, who noted the poor paperwork was likely the result of oversight rather than Hahn trying to hide anything. Either way, an audit is called for, he added.
“The act doesn’t give us a lot of leeway. There was omissions, very clearly. The automatic thing that pops into at least my head is, ‘what else has been omitted?’ There may be nothing, but I’ve got to support the idea of an audit. I suspect it won’t go a whole lot further than that, but that’ll be another decision. We’ll have to see what happens then,” said Aberle.
Fellow committee member Grace Sudden, a former Woolwich councillor, also supported the call for an audit, saying the paperwork, not Hahn’s character, was the determining factor.
“I don’t feel we have much choice under the act, and the circumstances,” she said. “The whole issue of who you are is not relevant to the situation.”
Williams, too, stressed the technical aspects of the case over Hahn’s statements of character.
“We’re hearing a number of things about the candidate. Questions about motive or character, various things of that sort. That is not the issue here. There are rules set out in the act that are pretty clear.”
Although Monday’s decision is subject to a 15-day appeal period, Hahn said he would not go that route.
The audit committee will next appoint an auditor, to be paid for by the township, to review Hahn’s election expenses. The auditor will have the full powers of a commission or inquiry, including the ability to subpoena documents and witnesses, and to compel testimony.
After completing the review, the auditor will report back to the committee, which will then decide the next steps. If the auditor finds issues, for instance, the committee can decide to turn over the matter to an independent prosecutor. Hahn could face a fine of up to $25,000, six months in jail or forfeiture of his council seat under the Elections Act rules.