02 August 2006

Conflict of interest you say, Danny?

[Updated - 1400 hrs 02 Aug 06, as noted]

CBC radio is running a story [link added] this Regatta Day focusing on Liberal party allegations that Danny Williams took a large donation from INCO to help cover the costs of the recent Premier's meeting yet criticized the Liberals for taking a political donation from INCO while it was the government party.

Danny Williams was unavailable for comment, according to CBC, but his personal publicist said the whole concern Williams had had applied only during the negotiations over the Voisey's Bay contract. That's when Williams was concerned about a conflict of interest apparently.  Now?  No problem.

According to CBC, Williams' publicist acknowledged the Premiers' political party had accepted donations from INCO at other times including in 2003 during the provincial general election. As CBC's web story reports,
Williams also banned the company from Tory fundraisers in 2002.

"We didn't want to be in a conflict of interest position, or be perceived as being compromised, quite frankly," Williams said in 2002. [quote added]
Apparently, the fact that INCO is trying to negotiate with the province over the smelter/refinery complex location wasn't in the publicist's notes.

Well, with all that stuff - especially the typically lame-assed excuses offered up by Williams' personal publicist - ye old Bond Papers wandered over to the Elections NL website to see what the official records say on donations to the governing party. Sadly, the site hasn't been updated for financial information since 2004 but there is still some interesting information there. If you look at the annual contributions reports, you can examine records going back to 1996.

Liberal Party leader Gerry Reid is quoted by CBC as saying that if INCO is dropping money into the Williams' party coffers, it will expect a return on the investment. He ought to know given that he was a cabinet minister under Roger Grimes back when INCO pumped its political cash into the governing Liberal Party.

By the way, a quick look at official donation records will show that INCO has been giving money to the party in power and not bothering with Opposition parties. When Williams claims to have "banned" INCO in 2002, he was blowing smoke, or to put it another way Williams claimed he was stopping something he knew would never happen anyway. Like the sun shining at night. [new paragraph]

Of course, as noted below, Williams has had no problem accepting huge contributions from INCO in the election year and subsequently. He also has no problem with numerous other conflicts of interest that exist within his administration. That's the Danny way: it's only a problem if he says it's a problem and it is always a problem for someone else. Danny Williams is the only guy who never gets the joke in the sign: "Rule 1 - the boss is always right. Rule 2 - if the boss is wrong, see Rule 1." [new paragraph]

2004 Contributions to political parties
Progressive Conservative Party
(Alphabetical; selected donors)

Abitibi Consolidated: $12, 750 (During negotiations on future of Stephenville Mill; Premier subsequently agreed to annual energy subsidy of $15 million annually to support mill)

Barry Group: $15, 250 (Appears to be an annual pattern of donating $15, 000. Barry has been a favoured company in Williams administration fisheries policy. The Williams administration has provided Barry Group with financial assistance on aquaculture projects and help getting its seal oil capsules back on COSTCO shelves. By contrast, Fishery Products International donated on $2,000 to the PC party in the same year and may not have given any more in recent years. All FPI has gotten from the Williams administration is the middle finger salute. Maybe it's just a coincidence since Barry Group also has the virtue of being connected to the current administration through the finance minister and the deputy premier/fisheries minister.)

INCO: $9, 000 (2003 - $11, 750)

Kruger Inc: $16, 500

Rogers Group of Companies: $14, 750 (Rogers is a big backer of Williams giving not only cash but also fawning coverage through its local cable programming. Out of the Fof is so supportive of the Williams administration that it should be classified as Williams' personal television show or the subject of a complaint to the CRTC for failing to provide equal free political broadcast time to other political parties.)

In 2004, the single largest political donation came from Bristol Group to the Liberal Party. It totaled over $186, 000. [NB: This may be related to a forgiveness of debt from the previous election.] The ones cited above for the Progressive Conservative Party stand out because of the size. Donations of more than $10, 000 stand as unusual, especially in a non-election year. [expanded paragraph]

This whole issue of political donations is so interesting, we'll have to do some more digging and go back in time a ways. There might be a good argument here for further restrictions on political financing so we can prevent real or perceived conflicts of interest using both hard and soft money.