I really really enjoy reading the Hill Times. It is informative, and I have learned much about how Parliament, and indeed politics works in Canada through their site. I just read an article there about some very aggressive Conservative Party activities, which I believe may constitute a breach of the Elections Act, and should be investigated.
The crux of the story is about how a number of very rich Conservative Party EDA’s (Electoral District Associations), channelled significant resources towards swing ridings in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. So far so good. There’s nothing wrong with transferring a pot of money to a ‘poor relation’. It makes a lot of sense for the CPC to ensure that every EDA where they have a chance gets every penny they can legally spend, and then go about spening it to win their local contest. The money gets properly recorded by the recipient, whose financial agent carefully records and reports the spending, and the spending limit is approached, but not quite exceeded. The really meaty bit of the story wasn`t picked up on by Tim Naumetz, the author. I feel kind of sorry for him, because he could have had a really great story here. It`s not too late for him though.
So here`s the smoking gun:
“Prime Minister Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) riding association, along with those of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.) and Conservative MP Rob Anders (Calgary West, Alta.) in Calgary, also set up massive phone banks with hundreds of volunteers in an attempt to sway voters in swing ridings in central Canada, Mr. Anders and his former riding association president say.”
Do you respond, ‘Big Deal’? Well, it almost certainly IS a big deal if the facts line up the way I suspect. First off, these massive phone banks, with hundreds of volunteers cost money to set up. Actually, quite a lot of money. Even if every volunteer is on a crappy old computer, with VOIP service, the computer has to be recorded on the campaign books at the cost to purchase it. Then there’s the costs per call. Then there’s the proportion of campaign office expenses dedicated to NON-LOCAL election expenses. I had the opportunity to study Accounting as part of my MBA program. I’ve also been a businessman for several decades, so basic accounting principles are not strange turf to me. Based on the principle of materiality, if some casual calls were made, that amounted to a few dollars being spent in the wrong place, because the amount is insignificant, no true breach of anything has occurred. That’s why, if you expense a cup of coffee that wasn’t actually business related, you aren’t guilty of anything inappropriate. You are only guilty of something if you systematically went about expensing thousands of cups of coffee, because at some point the error becomes a material breach. Do you see where I am going here yet?
I see at least 3 potential breaches of the act that will require investigation by EC auditors.
First problem: Did Rob Anders, Steven Harper, and Jason Kenney file for, and recieve a 60% rebate on these local election expenses? If so, they should give the damned money back, at a minimum, because these were clearly NOT local election expenses, and thus do not qualify. This is the flip side of the in-and-out scheme wherby the CPC appeared to bilk taxpayers out of large sums of money. The CPC allegedly took advantage of poor language in the act to create local expenses in ridings where the spending limit would not be reached by the local campaign. That way, the Party could spend money above and beyond the legally mandated national elections expense limit, and the local EDA’s that participated would receive a 60% bonus on the backs of the taxpayers. Based on Rob Anders quote, the very purpose of these phone banks was to direct resources at other electoral districts, and I am betting that the $ amounts were non-trivial.
Second Problem: In which of the ridings targetted in this way did the local campaign spend right up to the legally mandated maximum? Let us make a guess, and say that $40,000 worth of phone bank was equally divided up between 10 out-of-riding campaigns. That works out to $4,000 per recipient riding. I will guess that this would put at least half of the recipients over their legal spending limit. What, I wonder, are the penalties for buying an election?
Third Problem: The spending was either authorised by the Financial Agent for the recipient campaign, or it was illegal. That’s it, plain and simple. If the recipient were unwitting, which is theoretically possible, then the offense was committed by the donor campaign. Hey, wait a minute! That was our beloved Prime Minister’s campaign wasn’t it? Third Party advertising rules could apply if the donor wasn’t a political campaign, but the donors were, so that’s not much of an escape hatch. The Financial Agents for the donor campaign may already be on the hook for claiming the rebate, but there are a bunch of counterparties to be called to account too.
I know that many would say it`s too hard to quantify, and that allocating the funds will be impossible. Well, I`m happy to say that any CA, or CMA can easily conduct the audits that will NAIL the contributors to the wall. Whether the phone banks were voip, or landlines, or whatever, there will be electronic records of exactly which phone calls were made to where. Once it`s established how much of the office spaces, and expense were dedicated to these non-local campaigns, it will be a simple matter to allocate the spending proportionally to the recipients. They will argue like hell in the courts, over a few hundreds of dollars, but the basic facts will be inescapable.
There are many twists and turns that add interest to this story. There is the fact that EC ‘lost’ their chief the last time EC tried to challenge this kind of sleazy shafting of the taxpayer, and manipulation of the Elctions Act. (In-and-Out scandal, appropriately so named because the appearance that the taxpayers were screwed). There is the fact that the CPC so very loudly screamed and hollered about the clear and transparent per vote subsidy, whilst at the same time they manipulated and schemed to screw the taxpayers wholesale with these kind of sleight of hand tricks. And then there’s the interesting fact that even when caught overspending, nobody ever seems to lose their seat over it. I mean, w.t.f. is the point of spending limits, and a finance act if Rob Anders can publicly crow about it? Has the culture of corruption spread so far, and so quickly that the CPC believes they are immune to the law?
Anyhow, I suggest that, like myself, you get on the phone to elections Canada, and ask them if they are going to dare to beard their Tory masters? I feel sorry for EC if they actually attempt to enforce the law. They are legally bound to try, but oh the consequences! More careers will be abruptly terminated, and obviously the CPC will immediately sue them. Still, we must use the tools at our disposal, or else the contempt of our political masters for the law will remain unchecked, and these kinds of sleazy practices will continue to be rewarded by electoral success.
Authors note: I just made a few judicious edits. A little heavy on the hyperbole, as I was all steamed up. Sorry if it morphed into something a little softer.