Thursday, August 30, 2007

More on the Conservatives' own adscam

The Citizen's document review seems to narrow the ad buy scheme to Quebec in the days following Harper's "open federalism" speech. A beau risque taken, playing fast and loose with election spending rules, in the hopes of attaining that magical majority? Details from the Citizen suggest a concentrated ad buy that could have made a significant difference in gaining the Conservative seats in Quebec:
The Conservative party launched a program to shift more than $1.2 million in advertising money to Tory candidates during the 2006 election after Stephen Harper delivered a speech on federalism that became the key plank in the party's Quebec campaign.

With the Conservatives seeking a breakthrough in the province, the party began shuffling hundreds of thousands of dollars to agents for Tory candidates in a string of ridings from Gatineau to Quebec City. The agents then channelled the cash back to national party headquarters to pay for large-scale media buys.

A Citizen review of election filings shows that Conservative candidates in Quebec reported paying the federal party $527,000 for radio and TV ads beginning on Jan. 3, 2006 -- two weeks after Mr. Harper promised a "freer federalism" under a Conservative government in a crucial speech in Quebec City.

Mr. Harper's address raised the party's Quebec profile to a new level at the midpoint of an extraordinarily long federal election campaign, and was later seen as a key factor behind the capture of 10 Quebec seats on Jan. 23. The 10 ridings were all in the area blanketed by the Conservative ads.

Conservative support in Quebec public opinion polls rose steadily after Mr. Harper's speech. Through the series of transfers, the party was able to fund advertising in Quebec to capitalize on its surging popularity in the final stretch of the campaign.

Elections Canada has refused to accept the advertising expenses listed by Conservative candidates in the transfer scheme, citing an absence of evidence that they were incurred by the candidates claiming them. At least two Conservatives told Elections Canada auditors they believed the expenses claimed by candidates were, in fact, "national" advertising. Two former Quebec candidates have since told the Citizen the ads were for the larger campaign and did not publicize their own campaigns.

After Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand referred the transactions to the federal elections commissioner for investigation last April, 34 official agents for Conservative candidates took Mr. Mayrand to Federal Court in an attempt to overturn the decision rejecting the expense claims.

If the decision to disallow expenses from the $1.2 million in media buys stands, the Conservatives could be required to count that advertising in the national campaign budget. That would push the Tories over their $18.3-million spending limit for the national campaign, in violation of the Elections Act.

The Conservatives say they are in full compliance with the elections law. The ads in question carried the tagline indicating they were authorized by the official agents of the local candidates, the party says, and candidates were invoiced via the party for the ads. (emphasis added)
And of course, they're fighting Elections Canada tooth and nail now. For as you read this, it certainly appears that the decision's been made by Elections Canada. The Conservatives, in the eyes of Elections Canada, are in violation of the spending limits because the expense claims by local candidates have been disallowed.

Mr. Harper likes to describe himself like this:
Mr. Harper has spent his political career standing up and speaking out for Canadians who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules. (emphasis added)
He frequently cites Canadians who "play by the rules" in political speeches.

This is a foundational issue that once again goes to the Conservatives' accountability. Accountability for all others, at all costs, not so much for them.

(h/t to Ken Chapman who's writing about this too)