NDP answering to financial watchdog
After charging the Liberals with mixing party issues with public money, the NDP was defending its own practices this week, following leaked parts of a B.C. auditor-general’s report.
John Doyle accused the NDP of using public money from MLA’s constituency offices for partisan purposes.
Documents from a draft internal audit of B.C. legislature finances describe a practice of NDP constituency offices paying $202 per month each into a “centralized fund” that was used to hire three-time NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu on contracts to work for the NDP caucus.
B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Bill Bennett said Premier Christy Clark has apologized for a plan that suggested using government resources to help the party, and the NDP should do the same for this.
“This is a kickback scheme,” Bennett said. “This is a scheme that uses money that’s intended for constituency offices around this province ... your NDP MLA thought that it was OK to send back $200 a month to the caucus for politically partisan reasons, rather than using that money to look after your constituents.”
Doyle, in a draft audit of the 2010 fiscal year, said a review of documentation shows money in the members’ “constituency office centralized fund” was being used for “partisan purposes and not for goods or services consistent with the original purpose of the constituency office …”
Doyle said that by March 2009, about $260,000 had piled up in the centralized fund since it was created in 2005, with most of that spent, leaving only $40,000 in the account.
Local NDP MLA Michael Sather, though, says the NDP previously ran the idea past the legislative comptroller.
“Pooling of resources, constituency associations and caucus, is something we brought before the legislative comptroller, who normally oversees financial affairs,” he said Tuesday.
Sather also said the comptroller approved the practice, only to have the auditor general condemn it in a March 2009 audit because it could lead to the money being used for non-constituency purposes.
The comptroller general was fired last year after a broader audit by Doyle revealed MLAs’ personal expenses were being paid without receipts.
Doyle also criticized the NDP for transferring caucus expenses from 2008, to 2009 so that the fund stayed on budget.
As a result, the NDP stopped the practice and refunded constituencies what they paid.
Sather says his constituency office got about $2,000 back, but he’s not sure of the exact amount or for what time period.
“As far as I know, all constituencies contributed some.”
Liberal MLA Marc Dalton, though, said the practice continued to 2011. “It continued, it didn’t stop.”
Dalton said by December 2011, the amount had reached $605,563, attained by requiring constituency offices to chip in $202 a month.
Just more than $459,000 was spent.
“You’re not supposed to take money from your constituency offices and divert it,” Dalton said.
“Their cries of shock and their desire to see an investigation is coming across a bit hollow. It’s a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.”
If the Liberals had done that, “we’d be buried.”
Dalton added that every political party reaches out to constituency groups. “That’s part of your job to reach out, to support them. You do things out of good will, for the good of the province.” At the same time, he added, you hope you’re supported in return.
“You want to do things appropriately.”
Sather pointed out that NDP agreed that the transfer of money wasn’t a good practice, but disagreed it was for partisan purposes.
“It wasn’t money that went to the New Democratic Party. It was a transfer between the constituency association and the caucus.”
There is a distinction between the NDP caucus (MLAs) and the party and said the latter is not supposed to have access to government money.
Doug Bing, Liberal candidate seeking to replace Sather in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said the incident makes the NDP look hypocritical.
“It sounds like they got their hand caught in the cookie jar. It sounds like they have done an ill-considered action which came back to haunt them.”
Sather said he expected the audit to be released soon and wasn’t sure if it would be the same as the draft version.
“Less money in NDP constituency offices means less help for those in the community who need it,” Bennett added in a B.C. Liberal news release.
“This was money meant to help constituents and it was taken away. This wasn’t a simple mistake – it was a well organized plot and they only stopped when they got caught.”
– with Black Press files