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DWatch files complaints with Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner about Trudeau Cabinet giving preferential access to “bundler” fundraisers, especially lobbyists

Commissioners should not rule on complaints because both were handpicked by Trudeau Cabinet – complaints should be referred to provincial commissioners

Political fundraising event disclosure Bill C-50, which comes into effect Dec. 21st, is a charade that won’t stop this cash-for-access because PM and ministers and other party leaders still allowed to sell access to themselves at exclusive events

Wedesday, November 28, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the federal Ethics Commissioner and a complaint with the federal Lobbying Commissioner calling for investigations into the preferential access that the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers have offered to fundraising “bundlers” who recruit 10 or more Laurier Club donors in a year, and into whether lobbyists are doing bundler fundraising for the Liberals.

The offer of preferential access was made through whatever communications with party members followed the establishment of the Leader’s Circle in the Liberal Party in the spring of 2016, and through the Liberal Party’s webpage about the Circle which was on the Party’s website from spring 2016 at least until the end of August 2016.

The Liberal Party’s webpage says the Leader’s Circle is “designed to recognize” people who raise money for the Party through “donor networking and bundling” which is “of utmost importance to growing the Party.” The webpage offers bundler fundraisers “recognition opportunities” including “an annual dinner with the Leader and invitations to events and discussions with leaders within the party.”

It is not known whether the Liberal Party is still operating the Leader’s Circle or any similar fundraising group – the letters to the commissioners ask for a comprehensive investigation into the Party’s fundraising activities.

Politicians are supposed to be the referees who decide what is in the public interest – so why do federal political party leaders continue to allow wealthy people to buy them off with huge donations and fundraising activities, including secret donations? In hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports, referees are not allowed to accept even small gifts from players,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “A full investigation of the fundraising activities of everyone involved in the Liberal Party in the past several years is needed by both the ethics and lobbying commissioners to determine how much preferential access has been given by the Prime Minister and other ministers to top donors and fundraisers, especially lobbyists.”

The letter to the Ethics Commissioner calls for an investigation into whether the PM, ministers, parliamentary secretaries or PMO/Cabinet staff violated the Conflict of Interest Act by giving preferential treatment to these bundler fundraisers by agreeing to attend events where the bundlers would have access to them. Giving preferential treatment to anyone is prohibited under section 7 of the Act.

The letter to the Lobbying Commissioner calls for an investigation into whether any registered lobbyists or people connected to lobbying businesses or organizations are members of the Leader’s Circle and have violated the Integrity and Professionalism Principles, and Rule 6, of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by doing bundler fundraising for the Liberal Party which put the Prime Minister or other ministers, staff or MPs into a conflict of interest. As well, if they lobbied the politician or public office holder after the fundraising, then they also violated one or more of Rules 7-9 of the Code.

The letters also refer to a complaint Democracy Watch filed in September, and another complaint filed at the end of October, and other complaints filed in November 2016 and March 2017, all of which relate to preferential treatment given by the Liberals to top donors and lobbyists at more than 162 events, or relate to lobbyists fundraising for the Liberal Party while lobbying Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers.

The federal Liberals also hold special events for donors who donate $1,500 or more annually (they become members of the exclusive Laurier Club).

Both complaint letters also call on Ethics Commissioner Dion and Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger to recuse themselves from investigating and ruling on the fundraising events, and to assign the investigations to people who are independent from them, because both are biased as they were chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet through a process controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Democracy Watch does not want either commissioner to rule on the complaints, and in its complaint letters requests that both commissioners refer the complaints to provincial ethics commissioners who are not tied to the Liberals or any federal political party. Democracy Watch has challenged the appointment of Ethics Commissioner, and the Lobbying Commissioner, in Federal Court. The cases were heard in Ottawa on November 14-15, 2018.

“The Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner are biased as they were both chosen by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive process controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office, and so the investigation of the Liberal fundraising events must be delegated to people who are fully independent from the Cabinet to ensure the integrity of the investigation,” said Conacher. “Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet essentially chose their own ethics and lobbying judges by choosing the commissioners, and so the commissioners shouldn’t be trusted to investigate and rule impartially on the Trudeau Liberals’ fundraising activities.”

The complaints are being filed as the Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-50 is soon to come into effect, which will happen on December 21, 2018. Bill C-50 changes the Canada Elections Act to require fundraising events for a party, riding association, nomination race contestant, election candidate or leadership race contestant that:

  • take place outside of an election campaign period;
  • have with a ticket price of more than $200, and;
  • are attended by ministers, ministers of state, party leaders (or interim leaders) or party leadership contestants

to be disclosed five days before the event on the party’s website (subsections 384.1(1) to (3) and subsection 384.2), with the organizer and party required to file a report with Elections Canada within 30 days after the event disclosing: who benefited from the event; which ministers etc. attended the event; the identity of any adults who paid to attend the event; what the donation or ticket price was to attend, and; the name of each person who helped organized the event (subsections 384.3(1) to (7)). Bill C-50 also requires each party to file one report on all such events that occur during an election campaign period within 60 days after election day (subsections 384.3(8) to (13)).

However, Bill C-50 exempts from the public disclosure requirement donor appreciation events like a Liberal Party Leader’s Circle event if the event is held at a party convention (see subsection 384.1(4)), and does nothing to stop high-priced, exclusive, invite-only fundraising events attended by the Prime Minister and/or other ministers. As a result, Bill C-50 still allows cash-for-access fundraising activities.

“The Trudeau Liberals’ proposed Bill C-50 is a charade that increases transparency but doesn’t stop cash-for-access to Cabinet ministers, MPs or their staff or the unethical influence of big money in federal politics, and the only way to stop it is to lower the federal donation limit to $100 as in Quebec,” said Conacher. “The too-high federal donation limit of $3,100 not only continues to allow wealthy people to use money as an unethical way to influence politicians and parties, it also encourages funneling of donations from businesses and unions through their executives and employees and their families, as has happened in Quebec, at the federal level, and in Toronto.”

To actually stop big money and cash-for-access and other undemocratic, unethical fundraising activities in Canadian politics, Democracy Watch and the Money in Politics Coalition (made up of 50 groups with a total of more than 3 million members), joined by more than 11,000 voters who have signed a petition on, called on federal parties to pass another bill before the next federal election that:

  1. sets an individual donation limit of $100 per year (as in Quebec) and requires all donations of money, property and services to be disclosed (including volunteer services);
  2. sets a limit of what candidates can give to their own campaign of $100 per year;
  3. prohibits loans to parties and candidates except from a public fund (to stop allowing federally regulated banks to buy influence with their loans);
  4. only re-establishes per-vote annual public funding if the parties can prove they need it, and at a rate of at most $1 per vote annually, along with annual donation-matching public funding, and;
  5. strengthens enforcement and penalties for violations.

See more details about how inadequate Bill C-50 is for stopping the unethical influence of big money in federal politics here.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179 Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign