Supposed donors deny giving money to Tories
OTTAWA – Several people listed as donors to a Conservative riding association in Montreal say they did not make the donations attributed to them by the party.
The donations — in the amounts of $333.33, $666.66 and $733.33 — appear on the 2009 Elections Canada filing of the Conservative riding association of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, a downtown Montreal district that was represented by Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe until 2011, when New Democrat Helene Laverdiere defeated him.
Conservative candidate Charles K. Langford, a businessman and professor, came fifth in the riding in 2008 and fourth in 2011.
From 2006 to 2009, the Conservative riding association collected $583,318.96 from 931 donations, many from people connected with engineering companies and law firms. It also distributed $376,739.36 — mostly to other ridings around Quebec. Such transfers between riding associations are legal, and are traditionally used by the Conservatives and Liberals in Quebec to gather and distribute funds for other candidates.
Postmedia News uncovered 11 unexplained donations. Postmedia News tried to contact all the donors on the riding’s donor list from 2007 to 2009, almost 550 people.
Many failed to return calls; others could not be located. Some said they couldn’t recall making donations, and others declined to discuss the issue. But 11 said they definitely did not make donations, and would like to know how their names ended up on the list.
Rocco Carbone, who owns an asbestos-removal business, was surprised to hear he was listed as a donor to the Tory riding association.
“I gave money to the party?” he said. “I never gave no money to no party.”
Italio Barone, who owns a banquet hall in Montreal’s Little Italy, said he is not a Conservative and doesn’t know where Laurier-Sainte-Marie is.
“I want to find out who the guy was doing the fundraising because I have a few words to say to him.”
Two other names on the list are relatives of Barone who also did not donate, he told Postmedia News.
Langford, the former candidate, didn’t respond to requests for an interview.
Angela Argiriou, the official agent for his campaign, said she had nothing to do with fundraising, which was carried out by the riding association, a separate organization.
The Conservatives collected many donations at a big fundraising dinner held at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth hotel on May 20, 2009, according to the riding’s financial officer, Benoit Larocque.
Larocque said a pair of tickets to the fundraiser sold for $1,000 but resulted in a $666.66 donation after subtracting the cost of the event, which featured a keynote speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Montreal’s The Suburban newspaper reported at the time of the dinner that “more than 2,300 people paid $150 a ticket,” to mingle with Harper, with then-environment minister Jim Prentice and with former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier.
Sen. Leo Housakos, who was then Harper’s key organizer in Quebec, organized the event. Housakos, a close friend of Harper’s then-director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, did not respond to queries about his role in fundraising for the riding association
A number of other donors actually reported giving more than is recorded in Elections Canada’s records. Larocque did not respond to an email asking for an explanation of the discrepancy.
Forensic accountant Damien Alksnis, who examined a spreadsheet of donors and donations put together by Postmedia News, says the results warrant investigation.
However, a fundraising event — such as a dinner or golf tournament — could explain the pattern of donations seen in the Laurier-Sainte-Marie riding, according to Alksnis.
Federal law requires riding associations to submit audited financial records to Elections Canada each year.
Larocque, who was a paid organizer for the party in 2009, said he has copies of all the cheques, and was surprised to hear that some donors say they didn’t write cheques.
“The donations were submitted to an auditor who oversaw them and the (financial records) have since been accepted by Elections Canada.”
He declined to produce copies of the cheques for Postmedia News, but said he would provide copies to Elections Canada or donors if they asked.