Conservative party calls secret fund story false, wants retraction

OTTAWA – The Conservative party called Friday for the retraction of a report saying a secret partisan fund is run by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The party called the report false, and says it pays for all of the prime minister’s political expenses — and not out of a hidden bank account.

“All Conservative party expenses are paid by one account, controlled by the Conservative party,” the party said in a statement.

“All funds are properly reported to Elections Canada and audited annually.”

The CBC alleged Thursday that a fund controlled by the prime minister’s chief of staff, and operating outside the oversight from Elections Canada, was being run by Stephen Harper’s office for partisan purposes.

The network also noted that Nigel Wright, Harper’s ex-chief of staff, was running the fund at the same time he cut a $90,172 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy to cover repayment of wrongful expense claims.

The Conservatives insisted no party or taxpayer funds went to Duffy nor was Wright reimbursed. Canadians were misled by the story, the party said.

“They should retract this piece of shoddy journalism.”

The CBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the story of how Duffy got paid has changed too many times to be believed and if he wasn’t paid off by the party, it’s easy to prove.

“Let’s see the cheque,” Mulcair said.

“It’s the easier thing to do. We’ll know the date, we’ll know the provenance and we’ll know whose signature is on it.”

While the party said there was only one account used to cover expenses, the prime minister’s spokesman said their office did have a budget for partisan events.

The money was provided by the party, but the budget was managed by the chief of staff as he knew which events the prime minister was attending, Andrew MacDougall said.

“He makes a judgement — is it government or political and if it’s for the Conservative party, it’s the Conservative party’s funds that will be used,” MacDougall said during an unrelated briefing Friday.

“The scandal would be if it was the other way.”

The party said while the chief of staff would have been the one to sign off on the prime minister’s political expense claims, only the party could sign the cheques.

“The Conservative party ensures that non-government activities undertaken by the prime minister are never billed to taxpayers,” the party said.

Officials for both the Liberals and the New Democrats have acknowledged their parties also pay for leaders’ expenses that are partisan in nature.

While all parties are required to submit their financial records to Elections Canada, there are limits on how closely those documents are scrutinized.

In a 2010 report, the chief electoral officer noted that this is especially a problem with regard to election expenses.

“Despite the considerable funding given to registered parties, the Chief Electoral Officer does not receive any documentary evidence of the expenses reported in the election expenses return,” the report said.

“Nor does the Act provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the authority to request that a party provide such evidence.”

The financial reports published by the parties don’t provide precise detail about how their money is spent.

The most recent report for the Conservatives, for example, says that last year, the party spent $48.4 million in 14 different areas.

How much of that was related to the prime minister is not clearly specified.