Saturday, June 08, 2013

So Conservatives ... Is There A (Not-AnyMore) Secret PMO Fund or Not?

In the wake of CBC's revelation of a PMO-controlled party fund that Nigel Wright administered, Canada's CPC membership needs to start asking some tough questions of its party.

CBC News has learned that Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had control of a secret fund in the Prime Minister’s Office when he cut the now infamous $90,000 "personal cheque" to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy.
In exclusive interviews, sources familiar with the fund tell CBC the money in it comes from Conservative Party coffers, and at times has reached almost $1 million.
Like all political party funds, more than half of all the cash in the secret PMO stash ultimately comes from taxpayers' pockets. Individual donors to political parties receive generous tax credits. Parties also receive millions from taxpayers through a per-vote subsidy, which is being phased out by 2015.
The revelation itself isn't necessarily a big surprise.  One might imagine that there are funds put aside to support the Prime Minister and other senior politicians in their efforts to forward the party's objectives during non-election times.  The concern that I think a lot of people would legitimately have is that this is not openly visible to party members, much less Canadians at large.

But, I am going to go a step or two further here.  When the story first broke, the first reaction from the Conservatives was denial.  Then, when that line of defence failed to squelch the story, the Conservatives switched to a bizarre "well yes the fund exists, but it's not hidden" line of defence.

On the question of whether the fund could have been used in the Wright-Duffy deal, Delorey said: "No funds were used for that."
Similarly, there were no denials when CBC News sent an almost identical email to Harper's communications director, Andrew MacDougall.
"I'll have to refer you to the party," MacDougall responded.
Asked whether the special fund was in any way connected to the Duffy-Wright deal, MacDougall responded: "I can give you a clear, 'no.' The funds used were Mr. Wright's personal funds."
The party's denial two days after the exchange of emails makes a number of other claims not supported by fact.
For example: "The CBC claimed party funds are hidden from Elections Canada. This is false."
In fact, Elections Canada does not oversee any political party expenditures outside an election period.
I can only imagine the Byzantine structures through which the Conservatives have moved this money in order to bury the existence of this slush fund.  The denial through obfuscation approach that the party has taken makes it clear that this fund not only exists, but it is quite reasonable to suspect that it is being used for questionable purposes.  An inconsistent story from the party with respect to this - even though CBC's journalists have published the correspondence with Party Officials on this matter - speaks to a party culture where the first response to something dishonest being discovered is to cover it up with a lie.

Were I a member of this party, I'd be screaming for a detailed audit of the party books over the last ten years.  This party has taken in millions in donations from supporters, and given a pattern of dishonesty with electoral spending, outright electoral fraud, as well as the ongoing scandals surrounding Harper-appointed senators for abusing the public purse.  It is in both the public interest and party membership's interest to have a full and complete accounting of how the party has utilized the resources placed at its disposal by its membership.  

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