HarperPAC to shut down a week after launch

Stephen Taylor says debate about group brought debate about third-party advertising out of the shadows

A voter enters a polling station for the Federal Election in Toronto (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

OTTAWA — HarperPAC, a conservative third-party group, has announced it is shutting down operations less than a week after its launch.

HarperPAC was formed by a team of Conservatives including several former political staffers. Its efforts included a radio ad that targeted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

In an statement delivered on Twitter late Thursday, spokesman Stephen Taylor said recent debate about the group brought the issue of third-party advertising out of the shadows.

Taylor said HarperPAC was formed to respond to left-leaning, union-funded organizations such as Engage Canada. That group was launched earlier this month by former NDP and Liberal strategists.

“We have contributed to a new discussion about political financing in a fixed election era that is critical to our democracy,” he said.

Tom Flanagan, a retired University of Calgary political science professor, earlier said he was hopeful that HarperPAC would help to offset the pre-writ advertising efforts of its left-leaning counterparts.

“I think it is a matter of self-preservation for the Conservatives to be able to fight back,” Flanagan said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley earlier said he feared Canada was going down a path similar to the U.S., where political action committees, or PACs, raise and spend untold amounts of money to influence political outcomes.

Taylor, a longtime Conservative and former director of the National Citizens Coalition, denied that the group was taking a page from the American political playbook. He said the acronym simply offers a useful recognition factor.

The federal New Democrats used HarperPAC as an excuse to launch a fundraising campaign of its own Wednesday, calling on supporters to pony up $5 donations before the end of June in order to gird the party for battle.

Third-party groups such as Engage Canada and HarperPAC can accept money in the pre-writ period without having to disclose dollar figures or where donations come from.

Taylor said HarperPAC would return all donations to contributors.