Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Would you give this man $500 ..... well would you punk?"

Transparency Watch: Names of $500+ Pat Martin Defence Fund donors to be disclosed on Ethics Commissioner's website

By Kady O'Malley
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Potential donors to NDP MP Pat Martin's RackNine lawsuit defence fund, take note: If you give more than $500, the details of your contribution to the cause will be posted to the web by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson. 

As a rule, the ethics commissioner won't comment on individual cases, but in response to my query on the status of the fund -- which, according to Martin, has been cleared not only by Dawson's office, but Elections Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency as well -- a spokesperson for her office directed me towards one particular provision of the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs that "may," in their words, "be relevant" -- namely, the section on gifts and other benefits, which reads as follows:

(3) If gifts or other benefits that are related to the Member's position are accepted under this section and have a value of $500 or more, or if the total value of all such gifts or benefits received from one source in a 12-month period is $500 or more, the Member shall, within 60 days after receiving the gifts or other benefits, or after that total value is exceeded, file with the Commissioner a statement disclosing the nature of the gifts or other benefits, their source and the circumstances under which they were given.

That would strongly suggest that, as far as the commissioner is concerned, defence fund contributions are, in fact, permitted under the code, but are subject to the same threshold for disclosure as other gifts, which means the donor list -- or, at least, the names of those who contributed more than $500 -- would eventually have to be added to the public registry.

It's worth noting that, during her appearance before the House committee charged with conducting the mandatory five-year review of the members code of conduct last spring, Dawson made an impassioned plea to drop that very same threshold from $500 to $30 in order to encourage MPs to "pay more attention to the question of whether or not gifts that they receive are acceptable" as well as ensure greater transparency.

The committee, however, seemed unpersuaded, particularly when she went on to suggest that the disclosure rules be expanded to include any event "at which food and beverages will be served," which would cover much of the thriving Parliament Hill hospitality circuit, the existence of which the commissioner insisted, in the face of near universal bemusement, that she had, until recently, been entirely unaware.

Interestingly, the committee was unable to wrap up their report in time to table it in the House before the summer recess, which means that the issue may well end up back on the agenda this fall.

Will Martin's fundraising foray prompt a renewed interest in tightening up the rules -- perhaps not for receptions, but legal defence funds?

Stay tuned!

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