This column is about eight simple words. It requires some context to get there.
While Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump voice their concerns about United States political campaign financing from opposite ends of the political spectrum, a March 28 Globe and Mail column by Gary Mason, “Pricey meetings with premier fuel B.C. Liberal fundraising machine,” reignited debate in British Columbia on big money in politics.
Mason revealed that Premier Christy Clark had appeared at exclusive, big bucks party fundraisers. It appeared as if the party was selling access to the premier, for up to $20,000-a-pop. In B.C., unlike other jurisdictions, the sky’s the limit when it comes to political donations and the BC Liberals have refused to set maximums. The BC Liberals dipped below $10 million in donations last year, but still out-raised the B.C. NDP by a three-to-one ratio.
Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher (March 31) and the B.C. NDP’s David Eby (April 1) complained separately to Paul Fraser, B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner, about the Clark fundraisers. Fraser agreed the following week to investigate and render a single report.
I called Fraser’s office on April 7. To my surprise, he answered. He was not interested in taking my questions, but, before he abruptly hung up the phone up on me, he claimed to have no recollection of ever donating to the BC Liberals. I had pointed out the listings in the Elections BC database for a Paul Fraser who gave $300 in 2006.
I was also trying to ask why he figured he was fit to investigate the Conacher and Eby complaints in 2016 after admitting his own apparent conflict of interest after a 2012 complaint by John van Dongen. A “familial connection” in 2012 caused Fraser to reluctantly refer the report to an out-of-province commissioner. Fraser’s son, John Paul, is Premier Christy Clark’s Deputy Minister of Government Communications and Public Engagement. The younger Fraser’s job is to use tens of millions of taxpayer dollars between elections to help Clark convince the public that the BC Liberals are doing a good job. Bluntly stated, John Paul Fraser is Clark’s propaganda chief. The longer the Liberals stay in power, the better it is for him.
I followed that short phone call with an email, to which Fraser replied the next day. I included that response in my April 16 story for The Tyee. Fraser gave a vague explanation of the efforts taken by his office to separate him from those donations. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and carried his denial. I know first-hand about mistaken identity; my father and I share the same name.
On Sept. 29, 2006, a person named Paul Fraser donated $290 to the BC Liberals. On the same day, Fraser Milner Casgrain, the law firm where Fraser was a partner before he became commissioner in 2007, donated $2,000 to the party. I still want to give him the opportunity to clear the air. Where was he on Sept. 29, 2006? Could he, perhaps, consult his calendar and bank statements?
I called the commissioner’s office to follow-up my April 8 email and left a message with his receptionist. I did not receive a response.
Fast forward to May 4, when Fraser’s opinion was tabled in the Legislature. He cleared Clark of the conflict of interest allegations. It does not appear that he used his powers under section 21 of the Members’ Conflict of Interest Act to order Clark to testify under oath or show him documents about the controversial, yet legal, BC Liberal fundraisers mentioned in Mason’s column.
I sent Fraser a list of questions on May 5 and, after receiving no reply, I re-sent it on May 6. I always prefer a one-on-one interview, but when the subject is not co-operating and it is a last resort, then I will reluctantly send email.
I still sought answers to the donation issue as well as the matter of his 2012 recusal. But, Paul Fraser made a startling revelation that seemed to be for someone else’s eyes.
At 11:40 a.m. on May 6, I received an email from Paul Fraser that simply said: “Let’s continue to ignore all of his requests.” I called his office and was told he was not there. I fired off a quick email to him, wondering politely why he wanted to ignore my reasonable, public interest questions. I also decided to share his response with the world. It garnered more than 50,000 impressions on Twitter.
The full email is below, including Fraser’s unfortunate, ill-conceived response. Below that, you will find those Elections BC filings, with an emphasis on the 2006 donations.
My questions still stand and I would welcome Fraser’s call.
I’m not holding my breath. My Tyee colleague, Andrew MacLeod, tried unsuccessfully to rouse Fraser.
Fraser’s duty is ultimately to the public as one of the Legislature’s official watchdogs. He is entrusted to keep our elected officials from mixing private interests with their very important public responsibilities.
While I can be amused by Fraser’s May 6 email response, those who pay his $270,000-a-year salary should not be.
Mobile users, click here >> Paul Fraser: “Let’s continue to ignore all of his requests.” by BobMackin