Michael Ignatieff taking illegal donations?

(The Liberal Party says the National Post got it wrong and they respond in the update)

That’s the conclusion one may come to if one reads Don Martin’s latest column in the National Post. However, it seems that Don doesn’t come upon the conclusion himself. The fundraising numbers for the last quarter of 2008 have come out and the story is the same, yet this provides fodder for political columnists since money is important in politics to build well-oiled political machines. The Conservatives are flush with cash rounding out 2008 with $21 million while the Liberals with about $6 million. Yesterday, I spoke with Jack Layton and the NDP leader was astonished that his party posted 90% of the Liberal total, though he sounded like he was chastizing the Liberals rather than bragging about his own party’s strength.

These particular paragraphs of Don Martin’s piece stand out,

The other glimmer of Liberal hope is political weaponry they have purchased from the Barack Obama campaign.

Specifically, they have purchased computer programs and donor-targeting technology at a discount from the friendly U. S. Democrats and plan to unleash hundreds of gigabytes at crafting a master list of donors while combing the country for new support.

It looks like the Liberals are starting to get their game in gear, or are they? Last summer, I met a member of Obama’s senior staff at a web 2.0 conference in New York City. The staffer told me that the Liberals had once contacted the campaign to adapt some of their fundraising capacity. The result? The Grits never followed up. According to Martin’s piece, Ignatieff’s team finally did and they got a discounted rate.

But it is this discounted rate which may pose a problem for the Liberal party.

What does the Elections Act say about discounts?

“commercial value” , in relation to property or a service, means the lowest amount charged at the time that it was provided for the same kind and quantity of property or service or for the same usage of property or money, by

(a) the person who provided it, if the person is in the business of providing that property or service; or

(b) another person who provides that property or service on a commercial basis in the area where it was provided, if the person who provided the property or service is not in that business.

“non-monetary contribution” means the commercial value of a service, other than volunteer labour, or of property or of the use of property or money to the extent that they are provided without charge or at less than their commercial value.

Ok, so the Democrats allegedly provided a non-monetary contribution because they sold computer programs to the Liberals at a discounted (less than commercial value) rate.

When an official agent receives a non-monetary contribution from a donor, the official agent must obtain complete documentation about the commercial value of the goods or services donated, and the name and address of the donor, so that the contribution may be (subject to its commercial value) reported in the Candidate’s Electoral Campaign Return (EC 20120) as a contribution and as an expense. “Gifts and other advantages” are reported separately in the Candidate’s Statement of Gifts or Other Advantages Received (EC 20053)

So, do the Liberals have to fill out some forms? No! Thankfully, they’ll save some time because the contributions themselves are ineligable.

404.(1) No person or entity other than an individual who is a citizen or permanent resident as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act shall make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a candidate, a leadership contestant or a nomination contestant.

The Liberals as a registered political party appear to be taking non-monetary contributions from foreigners to raise more money in Canada. If Don Martin’s account is true, the Liberals aren’t playing by the rules. This should raise some serious questions about the judgement of Michael Ignatieff.

Liberals receiving discounts from the Barack Obama campaign?

No, they can’t.

UPDATE: And they didn’t according to Liberal Party spokesman Daniel Lauzon. Daniel writes:

You should note that the Liberal Party has not, in fact, purchased software from the Obama campaign or any other supplier. Though we are currently exploring options for more powerful software – including products like those used by our friends to the south – we have not made a purchase, let alone at a discount.

The statement appears to stem from an interview granted yesterday, and I am in the process of clarifying this unfortunate misunderstanding.

I hope this clears things up. I appreciate your cooperation in clarifying this matter for your readers.

Is s.329 of the Elections Act quixotic?

Section 329 of the Elections Act reads,

“No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.”

The polls in Newfoundland and Labrador close at 8:30pm local time whereas those in BC close at 7pm. In reference to the Eastern time zone, those eastern polls close at 7pm and those polls on the west coast at 10pm. Therefore, it is technically illegal to broadcast results of any poll between 7pm and 10pm tonight though results should be available as early as 7:45pm.

In this age of new media, bloggers, facebookers and twitterers are expected to operate in the framework of an antiquated law. When this provision of the Elections Act was written, the intent of the law was to prevent television networks from broadcasting results in Newfoundland to British Columbia in order to prevent BC voters from having results before they cast their own ballots. Now that new media offers populist broadcasting to everyone with a mobile phone or a computer, how will Elections Canada enforce this provision of the Elections Act?

In my opinion, this section is a violation of free speech. Yes, I understand the reasoning behind it, yet I do believe that the law does not reflect reality in this age of self-broadcasting. Laws should be enforceable because when it is impossible to enforce a law, a law ceases to have effect. If the purpose behind the law is valid (to prevent “specially informed” voters), a more realistic method of achieving it is required. It is much more reasonable to close all polls at the same moment no matter the time zone.

What is to stop an Atlantic Canadian from updating her twitter status as to the result of her Newfoundland riding? Or the Prince Edward Islander from posting who is in the lead on his Facebook wall? Since the possible forums for national broadcast have gone from a limited three television networks to practically limitless social media outlets, this particular provision of the Elections Act is de facto unenforceable.

And who is responsible for the rebroadcasting of early results? Do I shut down Blogging Tories for three hours this evening because a blogger whose RSS feed I aggregate there may put me in violation of the Act? Is the situation similar for Google Reader and iGoogle which both act as an RSS reader? More broadly, will Google shut down its Blogger site to Canadian IP addresses? Will Twitter face sanction because a Canadian might convey information to another Canadian through its American-hosted service?

Indeed, the law does not reflect reality and must be changed. What remains to be seen is whether change will come from mass social media violation of s.329 or through the legislative process.