Monday, April 21, 2008

"Over the top"

More details in the Star this morning on the Conservative in-and-out scheme employed in the last federal election. It appears that there is a lot of evidence that is damaging to the Conservative argument that their local candidates should be able to get taxpayer refunds for what was really national spending that they had no connection to:
In one email, Newfoundland Tory official Brian Hudson wrote that local campaigns could use that rebate "in whatever way your team desires (pay off election debt or use towards credit)."

The people acting as the "official agents" for the Tory candidates were given precise, step-by-step instructions in how the transfer would work.

And in every case, Conservative head office first demanded that the local campaign provide bank wire instructions to ensure head office would get its money back.

"The transfer of funds to, and the withdrawal of similar amounts from, participating campaign bank accounts was entirely under the control and direction of the Conservative Fund Canada," the document states.

As a result, the Conservative Party – not the candidates – was obligated by the law to report the spending, Elections Canada says.

The court filing sets out examples from across the country – British Columbia, Toronto and Quebec – where investigators found local candidates who had no knowledge of the advertising pitch or any dealings with Retail Media, the firm responsible for the ad purchases.

Even Retail Media had questions about the Conservative strategy.

"While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain of this beyond all reasonable doubt," wrote a company vice-president in one email obtained by Elections Canada.
(emphasis added)
That point above, that it was the Conservative Party and not the local candidates that was supposed to report the spending is the kicker that appears to be the basis of the allegation that the agent for the federal Conservative Party in the last general election "made materially false and misleading statements" on its financial returns.

More colourful details on the Conservatives being in full combat mode, challenging once again the propriety of Elections Canada's actions:
Investigators lined 16 or 18 people up along a hallway, one party official said, "like we were going to shoot back? I mean they had ... unfettered access to every single thing in Conservative party headquarters. They removed 17 boxes of material specific to our lawsuit, all the background stuff."

"They took away our tactics and our strategy" for the court case, said the official.

He also said the raid went well beyond the scope of the warrant, with investigators gathering information that had nothing to do with the issue.

"What does my computer and what's on there about the next campaign strategy, the next platform, the next ad campaign, and everything else, what the hell has that got to do with Elections Canada?" another official said.

"This is absolutely over the top."
Over the top is right. If the Conservatives are alleging that Elections Canada exceeded the warrant, let them make those charges in public, in a court room and present evidence of it rather than making these paranoid, incendiary charges behind closed doors to selected media.

Another item of interest here:
Lamothe's affidavit asked for the documents to be sealed by the court, saying the investigation would be compromised if its information was made public, and witnesses who were already unco-operative would be further "chilled" from assisting.

He said investigators had interviewed 14 candidates or official agents, and had tried but failed to interview additional witnesses.

He said 16 of 18 individuals "declined to be interviewed and stated to investigators that they have been advised by counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada that they should not speak with Elections Canada investigators without the involvement of counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada," citing the ongoing civil case. (emphasis added)
Neat trick for the open and accountable Conservatives. Sue civilly then use your own lawsuit as the basis to stifle the investigation by independent Elections Canada investigators. They've created their own shield from accountability. And see how well it's working?