Cash for Access Political Fundraising Story

… an Atlas case news story pertinent to Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform

Click for pdf, pages 23-25

Click for pdf, pages 23-25

The story

This page provides a sample of news reporting on the Government of Canada’s guidelines, rules, and actions on political fundraising, particularly as it relates to what critics call “cash for access” events. Among the issues raised in the realm of institutions and governance are: the impact of journalism on government decisions; the financing of a Political Party; and the appropriate role for Agents of Parliament, particularly the Commissioner Public Sector Integrity and the Commissioner of Lobbying.

Open and Accountable Government

On 27 November 2015, Prime Minster Trudeau issued a 94-page document entitled Open and Accountable Government (reference below, pdf on right) which:

“sets out core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers in Canada’s system of responsible parliamentary government. This includes the central tenet of ministerial responsibility, both individual and collective, as well as Ministers’ relations with the Prime Minister and Cabinet, their portfolios and Parliament. It outlines standards of conduct expected of Ministers as well as addressing a range of administrative, procedural and institutional matters. It also provides guidance to ministerial exempt staff and useful information for public servants and Canadians on Canada’s system of government. Finally, on the critical issue of ethical conduct, Ministers are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the Conflict of Interest Act.”

The Annex B on fundraising and dealing with lobbyists sets out three general principles:

  • Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
  • There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
  • There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

In her annual report dated 9 June 2016, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, wrote (reference below, p. 17-20):

“Political fundraising at both the federal and provincial levels came under intense scrutiny from the media and other interested Canadians from the late fall of 2015 into the early spring of 2016 and that attention has persisted into 2016-2017.

“Media attention was focussed on several high-profile political fundraisers involving ministers. The following instances were identified:

  • a December 2015 letter from Finance Minister Bill Morneau encouraged party supporters to donate and win a chance to share their ideas about the economy with him over dinner (this event was subsequently cancelled);
  • in December 2015, a fundraising email signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered supporters a chance to attend the Liberals’ holiday caucus dinner and “meet and mingle” with cabinet ministers and Liberal Members; • in February 2016, a fundraising email sent by the Liberal Party offered  supporters a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend two Canada 2020 events during the Prime Minister’s state visit;
  • a private reception with Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, was hosted at a Toronto law office in April 2016.

“I received a number of communications raising concerns about such fundraisers and followed up as necessary. As I have noted on a number of occasions, I face a challenge when public office holders’ activities do not contravene the Conflict of Interest Act (Act) or the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons (Members’ Code) but appear questionable to the public.

“The Act contains only one provision, section 16, that directly addresses participation in fundraising activities, and that provision does not distinguish between political and charitable fundraising. Section 16 reads as follows:

16. No public office holder shall personally solicit funds from any person or organization if it would place the public office holder in a conflict of interest.

“There is no fundraising provision in the Members’ Code.

“Two elements must exist to establish a contravention of section 16 of the Act. First, a public office holder must have personally solicited funds from a person or organization or have asked  someone else to do so. Secondly, it must be established that the solicitation would place the public office holder in a conflict of interest. If the first element is not found to exist, the second element is not engaged.

“Clearly, if a minister or parliamentary secretary organizes a fundraiser, it would be inappropriate to use his or her government position to do so. It would also be inappropriate to target stakeholders who wish to find favour from the minister or parliamentary secretary. While all four instances referred to above raised questions about the appropriateness of the way the fundraisers were organized, it was never clear that there was a contravention of the Act.

“Fundraising activities in which a relatively small number of attendees, in exchange for the price of admission to an event, gain the opportunity to meet a featured minister or party leader have been characterized as “selling access.” This situation is not directly addressed in the Act.

“However, should one of the stakeholders who attended a fundraiser subsequently seek something from a minister or parliamentary secretary, the minister or parliamentary secretary must be mindful of their obligations not to provide preferential treatment under section 7 of the Act or to further the interests of those stakeholders pursuant to section 6, which could, in the future, require a recusal or a conflict of interest screen.

“When ministers or parliamentary secretaries are invited to speak at a fundraiser, my Office advises that they should not engage in discussions that relate to departmental business and that they should direct any individual who wishes to do so to the proper channels within the department. …

“In November 2015, the current Prime Minister issued a revised version of that guide, now called Open and Accountable Government, and it includes the Best Practices appendix as well.

“I do not have the responsibility or the authority to administer the Best Practices appendix; it is administered by the Privy Council Office. Best Practices provides for appropriate safeguards to be put in place to ensure that departmental stakeholder lists are not shared with those engaged in fundraising activities, and for fundraisers to be instructed not to target departmental stakeholders or knowingly solicit contributions from them. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are directed to ensure that the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target departmental stakeholders, other lobbyists or employees of lobbying firms, and that fundraising communications issued on their behalf not imply any connection between fundraising and official government business.

“It is noted in Best Practices, however, that this guidance is not intended to restrict general fundraising appeals made to broad groups of supporters; such appeals could involve lobbyists and other stakeholders, but only incidentally. It also states that ministers, parliamentary secretaries and their staff should not discuss departmental business at fundraising events.

“The rules on fundraising for ministers and parliamentary secretaries in Open and Accountable Government are more detailed and more stringent than the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act. I proposed, in the Five-Year Review of the Act, that a more stringent rule with respect to fundraising than the current one in section 16 be established for ministers and parliamentary secretaries. One option would be simply to add the rules on fundraising for ministers and parliamentary secretaries in Open and Accountable Government to the Conflict of Interest Act.

“As it stands, even though that document is administered by the Privy Council Office, I regularly make reference to it when providing advice to public office holders on how they can best avoid situations that could potentially place them in a conflict of interest or create the appearance of one.

“The Act and the Members’ Code focus primarily on conflicts between private interests and public duties and do not address partisan behaviour, as such. In the five-year review of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which applies equally to all Members, including those who are ministers or parliamentary secretaries, I recommended that the House of Commons might wish to consider implementing a separate code of conduct to address the political conduct of Members and their staff, including political fundraising activities and I continue to believe that such rules should be established. This would go some way to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of ministers and parliamentary secretaries.”

Selected news reports
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Note: There were dozens of articles in the Globe and Mail and other leading newspapers on the cash-for-access story in the period November 2016 to January 2017 leading up to the government’s decision, articulated in the Prime Minister’s late January mandate letter to the Minister of Democratic Institutions (see http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-democratic-institutions-mandate-letter, accessed 3 February 2017) stating:

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process, therefore significantly enhance transparency for the public at large and media in the political fundraising system for Cabinet members, party leaders and leadership candidates.  Fundraisers should be conducted in publicly-available spaces, advertised in advance and reported on in a timely manner after the fact.  Other measures may follow after discussion with the other political parties.”

The response of the Globe and Mail editorial writers was as follows:

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Sources

Prime Minister of Canada (2015), Open and Accountable Government, at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/11/27/open-and-accountable-government, accessed 21 October 2016.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (2016), The 2015-16 Annual Report in respect of the Conflict of Interest Act, at http://ciec-ccie.parl.gc.ca/Documents/English/Public%20Reports/Annual%20Reports/Public%20Office%20Holders/2015-2016%20Annual%20Report%20Act.pdf, accessed 21 October 2016.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 3 February 2017.

Image: Prime Minister of Canada (2015), Open and Accountable Government, at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/11/27/open-and-accountable-government, accessed 21 October 2016.