Thursday, August 30, 2007

Conservative election spending scheme blown wide open

The fight the Conservatives have been having, quietly until this week, with Elections Canada is full on in the public spotlight now. Further developments reported in the Globe today suggest the glare's gotten too damn hot. 2 former Conservative candidates are publicly distancing themselves from the matter and raising questions that Harper and his government are going to have to answer about their too cute by half election spending scheme in the last federal election. These candidates are likely embarrassed at their having been included, apparently without their own knowledge, in the Conservative party's highly questionable effort to recover money from the taxpayers as a result of that same election scheme. Needless to say, it's a must read today. Mini Bush has blown to kingdom come any political advantage he may have had over the Liberals in the arena of spending on ads and ethical, lawful practices in doing so.

With reports this week having raised suspicions about the Conservative party's overspending in the last election, it looks like the Conservatives are trying to back off their fight with Elections Canada. After all, it certainly looked bad on 2 fronts. First, because they allegedly overspent in the federal campaign by $1.2 million, in violation of election laws. In a campaign in which they were hammering the Liberals for adscam. And secondly, the reports indicated that 37 financial officers for candidates were now seeking reimbursement - from the taxpayers - for that same-day scheme whereby the federal party transferred the $1.2 million to local candidates and immediately back for ad buys. That money was Conservative party money that went "in and out" of Conservative hands in a matter of hours. Why should taxpayers be reimbursing them for it?

All of a sudden, we learn today, it's no longer 37 financial officers seeking reimbursement. It's suddenly just 2 and these are being called "representative" applicants. But what's big here is the following. One of the now "dropped" financial officers (one of the former group of 37 - or 34, both numbers have been reported) says she didn't know about the case and more significantly, the candidate she acted for in the election - and a second candidate - are basically blowing the whistle on the spending scam:
Lise Vallières, who acted as the official agent for former MP Jean Landry in the Quebec riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, said yesterday she had just discovered that she was part of the initial case against Elections Canada. "Nobody ever asked anything of me," she said. In an interview, Mr. Landry complained that the Conservative Party placed $26,000 in his campaign account during the last election, and then used it to buy advertising that was not specifically related to his own campaign.

"It wasn't for me," Mr. Landry said of the ads.

Elections Canada reimburses 60 per cent of the election expenses of candidates who get at least 10 per cent of the votes in their riding.

Mr. Landry reached the 10-per-cent threshold, but he said he does not qualify for a reimbursement on the $26,000 because he has no proof the advertising was authorized by his official agent.

"Elections Canada does not have to reimburse a cent, because we don't have invoices," Mr. Landry said.

Another defeated Conservative candidate in the last election, Liberato Martelli, referred to the financial transactions as "scheming." Mr. Martelli said he was specifically told by Conservative officials that the $14,000 that was deposited in his account was simply going "in and out." (emphasis added)
Scheming? I'd say. I say these two guys need to be brought in front of the appropriate Commons Committee, and, Elections Canada needs to get a hold of them and pronto. This case for reimbursement sounds just about ripe to be thrown out, as well it should be. These candidates make it clear it wasn't their money, it was federal money. The evidence of overspending by the federal Conservatives certainly looks like it's there. In which case, the full penalties applicable need to be applied to the Conservatives.