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Fundraising ministers may be in 
breach of existing conflict code

OTTAWA - (Web posted April 18, 2002 @ 1:30 p.m.) - Liberal cabinet ministers who have accepted donations directly or indirectly above $200 for their unofficial leadership campaigns, and who have failed to declare that money publicly, may be in violation of Ottawa's existing conflict of interest code for public office holders.

It has been widely reported that in the underground Liberal leadership campaign to eventually replace Prime Minister Jean Chretien that high-profile ministers, such as Paul Martin, Allan Rock, and Shelia Copps, have been gearing up their leadership campaign teams for the day the PM retires.

A big chunk of that pre-leadership campaign work involves collecting cash donations which can climb to the tens of thousands of dollars, as was the recent case of the TransAlta donation of $25,000 to Martin's campaign.

That donation was later returned after it was discovered the money was raised by Calgary lawyer Jim Palmer, who was working for the Department of Finance at the same time. 

The Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code, which was established by the Chretien government in 1994, sets out guidelines for several categories of public office holders, including cabinet ministers, to follow in their day-to-day conduct.

Under Section 22(1) of the code, public officer holders must notify the Ethics Counsellor and make a public declaration when they receive, directly or indirectly any gift, hospitality or other benefit that has a value of $200 or more.

During an interview with PoliticsWatch.com this week Deputy Ethics Commissioner Robert Benson acknowledged that cash could be considered a benefit.

Duff Conacher is a director with the Ottawa-based advocacy group Democracy Watch.

He believes the current code could compel federal cabinet ministers, who are campaigning to be Chretien's successor, to disclose their campaign donations under the public declaration provisions to the Ethics Commissioner.

"Very clearly, the gift rule in the code prohibit actually donating to a leadership campaign," he said. "They're not gifts within the bounds of propriety and normal expression of courtesy."

But getting those rules interpreted in that manner is another issue altogether.

"You have to look into the circumstances (of each situation)," said Benson. "The benefit may not being going directly to the public office holder." 

A review of the Officer of the Ethics Counsellor Conflict of Interest Code- Public Registry details ministers declarations of gifts such as watches, carvings and tickets to sporting events.

There's nothing about leadership campaign contributions or any direct or indirect cash gifts.

 

Send us an e-mail and let us know if cash should be considered a gift under the conflict code. Do you think the code should compel cabinet ministers, who are running unofficial leadership campaigns, to declare the details of their fundraising publicly?

We would love to hear what you think.

 

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