Taylor target of smear?

Looks like Brookes Merritt picked up on the story I posted on the other day concerning Anne McLellan’s election expenses. Correction: he picked up on Anne’s side of the story and ignores valid questions and misattributes a mistake by Elections Canada to yours truly.

As if Anne McLellan’s election race isn’t tough enough – running as the only sitting Liberal MP in Alberta – a conservative blogger has put information on the Internet that her handlers call a smear campaign.

As if McLellan’s election race isn’t tough enough? Do I sense sympathy from the so-called non-partial unbiased reporter? Her handlers call my post part of a smear campaign. Fair enough, they are entitled to their opinion. After all, this is a news report, not a column. We should see some objectivity coming up…

On his weblog, pundit Steven Taylor accuses McLellan of fudging the books of her 2004 election campaign, writing off over $16,000 in damaged signs.

First of all, my name is spelled “Stephen”, not Steven. This fact is obvious to anybody that happens upon my website “by doing some real digging”. Second of all, I did not “accuse” McLellan. This is important. I am always careful in the way that I write opinion as I try to avoid jumping to conclusions without significantly solid evidence. Instead of making an accusation, I pose the question:

Did she overspend her limit and then write off part of her advertising budget as a non-campaign expense by declaring over $16,000 worth of signs “damaged”?

I certainly did not accuse McLellan.

An audit spreadsheet on the Elections Canada website lists McLellan’s campaign claiming $16,000 in “other expenses,” which are described as “damaged signs.”

Taylor’s blog suggests the writeoff was a ploy for McLellan to spend beyond the $83,000 campaign budget ceiling.

Ah, here we see some honesty. Yes, the Elections Canada website does list McLellan’s campaign claiming $16,000″ in “other expenses” and yes… the EC site does list the $16,000 for “damaged signs”.

And here we see that “Taylor’s blog suggests…” instead of accuses as we read before.

McLellan’s handler, Alex Swann, says the allegations are a smear campaign launched by Conservative supporters.

Alex Swann was McLellan’s ministerial spokesman. However, here he acts as her campaign spokesman. Is Swann moonlighting between partisan and government jobs? Inquiring minds would like to know (note to the Edmonton Sun: the previous sentence is not an accusation, but is rather an inquiry)

Here we see the article descend into perhaps unintended deception as the it juxtaposes a paragraph that suggests that Elections Canada agrees with Swann but uses the leading sentence about Elections Canada to provide a quote from Swann. Take a look:

And Elections Canada financial officials seem to agree the accusation lacks substance.

“The lion’s share of that $16,000 went to rent. Only about $500 of it was for damaged signs,” Swann said. “I don’t know why the Elections Canada website would identify it all as ‘damaged signs.’ Maybe their (online) spreadsheet only has room for two words.”

See what happened here? The lead-in paragraph suggests that we’re going to get some evidence from Elections Canada, but then we get a quote from McLellan’s spokesman Swann.

Moving on…

Elections Canada spokesman Andrea Marantz said candidates are required to submit detailed documents to support their expense claims.

“The (online) explanation field for ‘other expenses’ is not completely descriptive,” Marantz clarified. “Our financial documents account for the $16,000, and all but about $500 of it went to rent, insurance and telephone bills for the pre- and post-election period.”

She confirmed the $500 was to cover damaged signs. No candidates are reimbursed for such expenses.

“A candidate who wins 10% or more of the vote gets reimbursed for 60% of their campaign expenses. But they are not reimbursed for the ‘other expenses,’ or damaged signs.”

Here we see Elections Canada provide an explanation for what happened. However, Elections Canada does not “agree the accusation lacks substance”, rather, Elections Canada explains the shortcoming of their system. Remember, I originally read that $16,467.83 went to “Signs Damaged”.

Click to enlarge

I never implied that reimbursement of damaged signs occurred. I suggested instead that one could put damaged signs on their non-campaign related expenses giving more room within the $83,000 ceiling.

Elections Canada has no plans to revamp the web spreadsheets, but Marantz said the original, detailed financial accounting forms for election campaigns are available for public viewing.

“Anyone who wants to do any real digging can call the pubic [sic] information number on the website.”

I admit fault here. I could have arranged for a public viewing. It was my fault to think that Elections Canada provided accurate information on their online website.

Steven Taylor was unavailable for comment yesterday. McLellan’s Conservative competitor, Laurie Hawn, did not return calls from the Sun.

Here I take offence. I was available all day yesterday and my phone is always on. My contact info is listed on this website (including my cell phone number). The headline “McLellan target of smear” implies that I’m a jerk. “Steven Taylor was unavailable for comment yesterday” implies that I’m a coward. I think I’m a nice guy. Further, how much more available could I be to comment? I even have this online presence.

Furthermore, since the article points out where the honest mistake occured, why do they feel it necessary to describe my intent as malicious? A “smear”?

Swann said. “I don’t know why the Elections Canada website would identify it all as ‘damaged signs.’ Maybe their (online) spreadsheet only has room for two words.”

What accountant puts the smaller expense first? It’s a good thing that they didn’t group toilet paper with their rent or else I might have blogged about $16,000 in toilet paper expenses.

A better headline would have read “Elections Canada error maddens McLellan, confuses conservative”

With that said, I would like to apologize to Anne McLellan for raising questions such as these without exhausting all of the possible sources even when dealing with data from Elections Canada. It now appears that there isn’t any impropriety regarding her election advertising budget. I regret the error.