Monday, July 27, 2009

Conservative "in-and-out" election spending scheme still kicking around

This hangover from the 2006 federal election campaign is still with us. A few weeks ago, the Conservatives sought to move up the November court dates to August or September: "Judge refuses Tories' request to expedite 'in-out' hearings." This is the Conservative civil lawsuit against Elections Canada, going on two plus years and that has likely cost the taxpayer at least $1.5 million now in legal fees, probably closer to the $2 million mark by now (they were at $1.4 million 8 months ago).

As a refresher here...the Conservatives are disputing Elections Canada's ruling against them which effectively held that the Conservatives had overspent beyond their national election spending limit of $18.3 million in the 2006 federal campaign by about $1.2 million. The Conservatives, however, allege that they were entitled to shift $1.2 million in national ad expenses to various local candidates who had budget room, i.e., that money went "in-and-out" of local campaign accounts usually within the same day to purchase national tv ads. The upshot of the Conservative position is an end-run around national spending limits. A cash rich federal party, once it reaches its federal spending limit, can just start transferring national ad expenses down to the local candidates. In this way, they can gain millions of dollars in advantage over other parties when we are supposed to have national (and local) election spending limits. (The local candidates also get to claim refunds from the taxpayer for that "in-and-out" money which they didn't properly raise, a suspect claim as well.)

So, the Conservatives were seeking to move up the November court dates to August or September. Arguing that if they won, they could implement their in-and-out scheme once again for a possible fall 2009 federal election:
Last week, the Conservatives' lawyer Michel Decary asked that the court move the four-day hearing to August or September so the party could use the same advertising strategy in a possible fall election, should it be deemed legal, that was used in 2006.
And if they lost, then they would at least have the hearings out of the way of that possible fall federal election:

While Decary said he had no special knowledge of election timing from his client, he told Lutfy that the Nov. 23 to 26 sitting would likely fall "right dead-centre" in the campaign.

Decary made the remarks during a conference call with Lutfy and Elections Canada's lawyer, Barbara McIsaac. In a previous letter to Lutfy, Decary noted the minority government could fall at any time and said Conservatives were concerned the case would be heard at a time when party officials were busy campaigning. (emphasis added)

That's the risk that has always been present in the Conservative pursuit of this litigation against Elections Canada. Yet the Conservatives apparently view the court system as one more item to seek to manipulate for maximum electoral advantage. Very glad the judge said no to this request, in contrast to the successful scheduling manipulation that was permitted last fall during the Cadman litigation/fall election concurrence.

While this news was a small procedural defeat for the Conservatives, it's a reminder that the Conservatives are still intent on pushing the limits of the election spending regime. And, of course, that there may be a resolution of this civil case one way or another in the next six months.