Canadians subsidized the legal fees of Dean Del Mastro, the former parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, through a fundraiser organized by his riding association that allowed it to provide tax receipts to contributors.
Political contributions are eligible for a tax credit of up to $650, depending on the amount contributed. A spokeswoman for the commissioner of Canada elections says there are no guidelines for how a riding association spends its money outside of an election period. That means the Peterborough Conservatives broke no rules.
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Del Mastro, who was elected three times as a Conservative MP, stepped down from the caucus when he was charged in 2013 with breaking election spending rules. He resigned his seat in the House of Commons last week, a few days after he was found guilty of spending too much on his 2008 campaign, donating too much to himself and faking paperwork to cover it up. Del Mastro resigned the day that MPs were to vote on whether to eject him from the House.
Del Mastro's official agent, Richard McCarthy, was also found guilty of overspending and covering it up.
Del Mastro's sentencing hearing will be held in Lindsay, Ont., on Friday. He faces a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $6,000 fine.
The head of the Conservative electoral district association, or EDA, in Peterborough told CBC News last week that a 2013 fundraiser headlined by Brian Mulroney was held to pay Del Mastro's legal fees.
"These were funds that were raised separately and essentially moved through the EDA. They were put into the EDA and moved straight back out again. So we did not provide any of our funds for Mr. Del Mastro's defence," Alan Wilson said.
Del Mastro was a Conservative MP at the time of the fundraiser, which collected $39,310 for his defence. Using a formula provided on the website of Elections Canada, CBC News calculated that was worth $23,851.13 in tax credits.
Asked about taxpayers subsidizing Del Mastro's defence, Wilson declined to comment to CBC News.
The riding association spent $43,806 on professional services in 2013, according to records filed with Elections Canada. That category includes legal fees.
Aaron Wudrick, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says it doesn't make sense for political contributions to be subsidized to such an extent: up to 75 per cent for contributions under $400.
"Why is this more egregious than [how] taxpayers subsidize attack ads when parties turn them to use on each other?" Wudrick said. "So does this smell fishy? Yes, but then so do many of the other things that the money the political parties raise go towards."
Wudrick says political donations shouldn't be subsidized more than charitable contributions, calling it "perverse."
"You're basically saying that donating to political parties is more important than donating to charities that save people's lives," he said.
The association listed a total revenue of $76,490 for 2013, including $41,300 in contributions and $28,879 in "fundraising activities." The Peterborough Examiner reported 120 people went to the May 2013 fundraiser, with a $600 ticket price.
'Bay Street Conservatives'
Once the value of the dinner at Toronto's Albany Club was subtracted, individual contributions clocked in at $515. With 120 tickets sold, the contribution total would have been $61,800. It's not clear why the final reported amount was less than that. The records published online list 75 contributors, though some seem to have bought two tickets.
In August, the commissioner of Canada elections reached a compliance agreement with the city of Kawartha Lakes after the mayor, Richard E. McGee, expensed his ticket to the fundraiser. Corporate donations are illegal.
The riding association listed total expenses, including professional fees, of $82,337, for a net loss of $5,847. The association ended the fiscal year with $69,187 in the bank.
The fundraiser seemed to entice a number of high-profile Conservatives to buy tickets, including:
- Retired Conservative senator David Angus, appointed to the Upper House by Mulroney in 1993 ($515 on May 2).
- William Pristanski, Mulroney's former executive assistant, now a lobbyist at Prospectus Associates ($515 on April 30).
- Investment adviser Andrew Lapham, married to Mulroney's daughter Carolyn ($1,030 on May 2).
- Globalive chairman Tony Lacavera ($1,030 on May 2) Vaughan developer Mario Cortelucci ($1,200 on May 2) Ex-NHL goalie Paulo Colaiacovo ($1,030 on May 1)
Mulroney bought two tickets for a total of $1,030 on April 29, 2013.
In question period Monday, New Democrat MP Chris Charlton said the Conservatives should have to explain why those who bought tickets were able to claim a tax credit for them.
"When it comes to sticking it to the little guy, there's no one better than these Bay Street Conservatives and their old friend Brian Mulroney," Charlton said.