Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is there a criminal angle to the in-and-out scheme?

That's the question raised in an Ottawa Citizen piece today based on information contained in the documents and affidavits supporting the warrant that led to the RCMP raid on Conservative Party headquarters last week:

In the affidavit to support the search, an executive for Retail Media, the agency that purchased broadcast advertising on behalf of the Conservative campaign, is said to have raised doubts about the veracity of an invoice used to back up one Ontario Conservative candidate's expense claim for $39,991.

Marilyn Dixon, chief operating officer of the agency, "speculated that this invoice must have been altered or created by someone, because it did not conform to the appearance of invoices sent by Retail Media to the Conservative Party of Canada with respect to the media," according to the sworn affidavit of investigator Ronald Lamothe.

Mr. Lamothe also notes in his affidavit that invoices on Retail Media letterhead filed by nine Conservative candidates outside Quebec bear the same invoice number and each contain the same typographical error -- spelling "invoice" as "nvoice." A similar typo appears on other invoices, the affidavit says.

As Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc says, that raises the possibility of criminal acts of fraud or forgery which, at the very least, merit an RCMP investigation. And a criminal investigation would be a whole other kettle of fish than the Elections Canada investigation the Conservatives are already facing.
"Our initial impression is that some of the allegations made by Elections Canada in the sworn affidavit lead us to a concern that there may have been forgery or fraud that could ultimately run afoul of the Criminal Code," said Mr. LeBlanc.

The Conservative response to these allegations, in my view, raises more questions than it answers:
The Conservatives maintain that the documents provided by candidates to Elections Canada were legitimate. A Conservative official, speaking on background, said the party received an invoice from Retail Media with totals for all the candidates listed together.

To simplify, party officials cut and pasted the amounts for each individual campaign onto individualized documents to show each campaign how much each had spent for the advertising, without showing every campaign the figures for other candidates. But these documents were not intended to be official receipts. The source compared the move to dividing up a restaurant check at the end of meal.

That seems to support the contention that this wasn’t really local advertising at all, but was actually, as the opposition and Elections Canada has insisted, national advertising funneled through local campaigns.

If, indeed, this was just local advertising, then why didn’t Retail Media invoice each campaign directly, instead of sending a group bill to the central party? Why did the CPC apparently need to create new invoices for each campaign? And why do it on Retail Media letterhead? If all was aboveboard, and this was just a group ad buy, why didn’t the CPC invoice the campaigns on its own letterhead, collect the money, and pay Retail Media?

I don’t know about you, but when I divide up the restaurant check at the end of the meal I don’t photo-shop new receipts for each person. I actually usually ask for separate checks, but then again I’m not trying to funnel by lunch through my co-workers to get around my meal spending limit, and get them more frequent flier miles on their credit card.

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Mike said...

Imagine if it were a minority Liberal government caught doing this? Imagine the cries from Harper and his howler monkeys. Especially one Pierre Poilivre, my MP and the guy that finds scandals under ever rock and behind every tree - when he's in opposition.

Gawd I hope some CPC hondch gets perp-walked infront of the cameras for this...

Jason Cherniak said...

Sigh. The current EC investigation IS a criminal investigation. There is nothing magical about the criminal code.

Mark Richard Francis said...

"Sigh. The current EC investigation IS a criminal investigation. There is nothing magical about the criminal code."

What? There's no criminal code fairies? My parents lied to me?

The CPC centrally purchased the airtime through Real Media, and then got ridings to pay for it. I see no cause for anyone to cut and paste and make up fake Real media invoices if the only purpose of the document was to inform the ridings how much was spent. That could have been done with a phone call, a letter or an email.

The only purpose of the fake invoices that I can see was to give the ridings something to submit to the EC.

Budd Campbell said...

"Imagine if it were a minority Liberal government caught doing this?"

Yes, Mike, I can very easily imagine that!

And I have no difficulty imagining what the reaction would be from the Toronto and Vancouver cafe latte crowd. It's not important, it doesn't change the fact that the Liberals are the urban chic party, and we just don't give a damn, so please don't bore us because we're too damn busy being sophisticated urbanistas.

Jeff said...

i'm not sure if i understand budd's comment. fraud is ok when it's committed by the CPC because they get the rural vote?

Mike514 said...

I think Budd's point is that certain people will vote either Liberal or Tory no matter what.

This is probably why both the Tories and Liberals never dip below 30%-ish in the polls: Because they have this "bedrock" of supporters. Same with any party, I guess.

PITT said...

A fine example of conservative racism.

Nbob said...

Retail Media did not invoice directly because they probably knew there was a good chance they wouldn't get paidbecause under s. 446 of the Act a contract is not enforceable against the candidate unless it was entered into by the candidate, his/her official agent or a person with written authorization under 446(c).

According to the ITO affidavit .”There is no evidence that any of the involved Official Agents authorized the Conservative Party of Canada or the Conservative Fund Canada, in writing to incur candidate’s electoral campaign expenses on behalf of their campaign. (p.56)

If Retail Media had sent out the invoices individually the candidates could have walked away from the bill.

That I suspect is one reason Elections Canada is not reimbursing the candidates - why should the tax payer be on the hook for 60% of an unenforceable debt?

btw- it is an offense under s. 497(3)(n) for anyone other than the candidate,agent, or person authorized in writing to incur or pay a debt on behalf of the candidate (i.e. violate s. 438(4) or (5))