In and Outright Hypocrisy?

The Liberals have been trying to make gains from the so-called “In and Out scandal” in which they allege impropriety in the transfers of money from local Conservative election campaigns to the federal campaign for the purposes of funding national advertising.

Transfers of money from local to federal campaigns is of course legal as all parties do this (there is even a category for it on Elections Canada returns that all candidates, EDAs and political parties must file). Indeed, the Conservatives and the Liberals have a different tradition here: The Conservatives send their EDAs 10% of all the money the national party raises, and the Liberals tax their EDAs 40 some percent of their candidate’s Elections Canada refund. However, it is the channeling of local cash to the federal party to pay for advertising where the Liberals see red in the Tories’ blue campaign.

One of the most vocal critics of this alleged scheme has been Liberal MP Marlene Jennings of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine. Here is a quote of hers from the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker, the in-and-out financing scandal implicates at least six Conservative ministers, like the public safety minister and the foreign affairs minister. Their response? Dead silence.

The member for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country [Blair Wilson] did the right thing. At the very first hint of any questions about his campaign he stepped aside so he could clear his name.

The independent investigation into the Conservative scheme has not been completed. Will the government demonstrate true leadership and demand resignations from its six ministers?

Let’s take a closer look at Jennings’ 2004 and 2006 Elections Canada filing:

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and 2006:

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Jennings’ 2004 election return shows a $300 expense for advertising paid to the Liberal Party of Canada and a $1500 expense for the same paid to “The Federal Liberal Agency of Canada”. The 2006 return shows a $11,206.86 expense for advertising paid to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.

The Liberals have alleged impropriety in the Conservative practice of transferring money from local campaigns to federal campaign for use by the federal campaign for “advertising”. Here, we see Jennings transferring sums of money to both the federal party and Quebec wing of the federal party for “advertising”. What sort of advertising services did the LPOC and LPOC(Q) provide for Ms. Jennings? It should be noted that Jennings also declared expenses that her campaign paid to her riding association for advertising, so what of these similar expenses paid to national HQ? Did Jennings pay the party to produce Marlene Jennings specific advertising, Quebec regional advertising or national advertising? What is the difference between each of the three if they were paid for by the official agent for Marlene Jennings?

When you look at other Quebec campaigns it appears that more than a few Quebec Liberal candidates including Stephane Dion bought about $11,000 or $4,900 of advertising from the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec.

Is the LPOC an ad-agency or did they purchase advertising for their candidates like the Conservatives bought for their Candidates?

Of course, in my opinion, no laws have been broken here and if this shows that the Liberals were also involved in a so-called (by them) “In and Out scheme” the only things they are guilty of is hypocrisy.

Furthermore, why was this practice given a green light in the past for the Liberals by Elections Canada when it now raises questions by the federal agency. Are not all parties equal under the law?

In and Out, Conservatives respond

A copy of a letter sent to the President of the Liberal Party Senator Marie Poulin and Executive Director Greg Fergus landed in my inbox tonight. It concerns Conservative Party assertions that statements made in a recent Liberal Party backgrounder on what they’ve named the “In and Out” scandal concerning the “Conservatives’ apparent scheme to violate election spending limits” are in fact defamatory. The Conservatives stress that “Chief Electoral Officer Marc Maynard…has not accused any of the candidates or agents of breaking the law”.

The letter concerns the defense of Michael Donison, Neil Drabkin, Andrew House, Aaron Hynes, Andrea Paine and Ian West. The letter states that “it is defamatory to suggest or imply that these individuals have engaged in illegal conduct”.

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In this document, found on the Liberal Party website, the Liberals seem to imply that rewards in the form of government jobs were received by candidates who participated in the scheme that the Liberals allege.

Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc stated,

“To date, we have learned that eleven of the former Conservative candidates and official agents implicated in this scandal were named to federal appointments or were hired in high profile government jobs. One has to wonder if there is a connection between their willingness to participate and employment by this Conservative government”

The Conservatives allege that such statements are libelous as the letter addressed to the Liberals reads, “In particular, it is defamatory to suggest or imply that the positions that these individuals have or have had on Ministers’ staffs are “rewards” for having engaged in illegal conduct.”

The Conservatives seem to assert that the Liberals must prove that their accusations are true or else the Grits have libeled the aforementioned individuals.

Please read Steve Janke’s groundbreaking posts concerning this story, here, here and here.

Manufactured scandal

There is a faux controversy brewing in the media and among Liberal bloggers about Conservative ads that ran in the last election. As all parties do during elections, money was transfered between the national party and regional candidates. Conservatives ran their air war well and it was merely one piece of the strategy that paid off for the party that would form government after the contest on January 23rd 2006. Liberals allege that local campaigns funded “national” advertising and that the national campaign funded local ads which were national-like.

In the wake of this constructed controversy, Conservatives have responded by saying that “tag lines” in advertising attributed the ads to local candidates.

The Conservatives also claim that ads tag-lined with the names of local candidates ran locally. The Liberals, however, contest this local claim and also challenge the content of the ads and whether they are local in scope.

For all intents and purposes (but somehow is not approved under the Elections Act) a party could run 30 seconds of dead air and tag the ad to indicate that it was approved by the official agent for Jane or Joe Local, the Conservative/Liberal or NDP candidate. However, section 407 paragraph 1 of the Canada Elections Act states:

407. (1) An election expense includes any cost incurred, or non-monetary contribution received, by a registered party or a candidate, to the extent that the property or service for which the cost was incurred, or the non-monetary contribution received, is used to directly promote or oppose a registered party, its leader or a candidate during an election period.

Election expenses are incurred by local campaigns. Local campaigns bought local advertising to “promote or oppose a registered party, its leader or a candidate during an election period”. So, 30 seconds of dead air wouldn’t be allowed… but, a commercial promoting Stephen Harper and/or opposing Paul Martin is certainly allowed if it is paid for and tagged by the local campaign.

The Tories have kept their noses clean by purchasing separate ad buys for the national and local campaigns (national ads purchased by the national campaign and local ads purchased by the local candidates).

The Liberals may dispute the separate nature of the advertising purchases.

Here’s a signed letter from the advertising company commissioned by the Tories during the 2005/2006 writ period.

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In the letter, it states:

– Advertising buys for the national party were segregated from advertising buys for participating candidates. Retail Media was advised of which Conservative Candidates were interested in participating in additional regional media buys.
– Appropriate regional markets were identified for all participating candidates and specific media buys purchased in those markets.
– Appropriate tag lines were used in all advertisements identifying on whose behalf the advertisement was authorized.
– Appropriate invoices reflecting goods and services rendered were separately issued to participating Conservative Candidates and to the registered party based on the 4 segments identified.

and those 4 segments were:
– Media Buy – rest of Canada (excluding Quebec) – Registered Party
– Media Buy – Participating Candidates
– Media Buy – Quebec – Registered Party
– Media Buy – Quebec – Participating Candidates

So, the Conservative Party (national campaign) and the candidates (local campaign) were separately invoiced. It seems that all of the t’s were crossed and i’s dotted. Given that transfers of cash between local campaigns and the national campaign are perfectly legal, where’s the scandal here? Can somebody cite a section of statute or law that has been broken here?