05 August 2007

Rideout defends 5K gift of public cash

No surprise.

Deputy premier Tom Rideout thinks it's just fine to hand out gifts of public money to groups in the province from money set aside originally in 1989 to run his district office.

As Jamie Baker reported in Thursday's Telegram, since the rules allowed it, Rideout thinks the whole idea is just tickety-boo.

Some observations:
  • According to Baker's story, Rideout gave away almost half his constituency allowance in 2006 to things other that constituency operating expenses like travel and meals.
  • The $5,000 donation Rideout handed out in this case is more than double a previous gift using taxpayers' money. Rideout notes he handed the $2500 secret payment in 2004 to Calypso.
  • While the gift of public money was made to the Calpyso Foundation on May 11, Hodder indicates the cheque for it was cut sometime before March 31, 2007.
  • There is no explanation for the time-lag or why the donation was connected to the auction held in May. As the Pilot reported: "When you factor in a $5,000 donation that MHA for the Lewisporte District Tom Rideout made from his constituency allowance during the auction, the grand total hit the $22,000 mark." [Emphasis added]
  • Speaker Harvey Hodder is quoted as saying "Mr. Rideout is in total compliance with the rules as they then existed."
  • However, the rules under which Rideout made the gift are still in place and will be in place until October 9, 2007.
  • Hodder doesn't explain how the existing rules were met, though, given that in February 2007, [see second story below] news media reported spending in the House of Assembly would be handled on a new basis, or as Hodder said at the time "[t]he old regime changed." Presumably that meant a(n) MHA could only spend a portion of his or her allowance each month. For Rideout, with an allowance of about $41,000, a monthly pro-rated amount would be $3417, considerable less than he spent in that single donation and not including whatever other spending he carried out at the end of the old fiscal year.
  • Chief Justice Derek Green was sharply critical of the practice of making donations from public funds and recommended the practice be banned. It will be banned, but only after the election.
  • Since the old rules are still in place, it is unclear whether gifts such as the one Rideout made and the practice followed previously of MHAs spending most or all of their yearly allowance in the months prior to an election can continue and is continuing until October 9, 2007. There is no requirement for public disclosure of MHA spending and it is unclear whether the access to information provisions of Chief Justice Green's report will apply retroactively once they come into effect on October 9.


Two Telegram stories follow:

Calypso donation legitimate, Rideout says
Minister defends $5,000 donation to Lewisporte charity

Jamie Baker
The Telegram
Thursday, August 2, 2007, p. A3

Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout insists there was nothing wrong with a large donation he made from his constituency allowance to a charity in his district this past spring.

In March, Rideout, the Tory MHA for Lewisporte, turned over a cheque for $5,000 to the Calypso Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides training and employment support for people with developmental disabilities.

He said the money came from what was left over in his constituency allowance from the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which ended March 31.

"I checked with the House of Assembly staff and asked them if there was any change in the rules for donations at that point in time and there wasn't," Rideout told The Telegram. "I made a contribution out of the constituency allowance to Calypso, which I've done every year for many years, and made it known it was out of my constituency allowance and not out of my pocket."

Although the cheque was cut in March, the donation didn't become public knowledge until after the Calypso Foundation's "fantasy auction"in May. It was reported by the community newspaper in Lewisporte, The Pilot, and Rideout himself referenced it in the House of Assembly May 24.

"I told everybody there, it was their money and I was happy to make the contribution, on their behalf," Rideout said in the House at the time. "I do not think anybody there had any problem with the taxpayers' money being used for that."

House Speaker Harvey Hodder said the cheque from Rideout's constituency account to Calypso was dated March 30, 2007 - just a day before the end of the fiscal year when the remainder of whatever was left in Rideout's allowance would have been wiped from the ledger as the new fiscal year kicked in. While the cheque had to be cut before March 31 to come out of that year's allowance, Hodder explained the actual claim wouldn't have to be filed until some time in April.

"There's always a carry-over," Hodder said. "He would've had to have that money left in his account - there would be no extra money at all, not one nickel."

While MHA donations are often anywhere from $100 to $500, the $5,000 contribution from Rideout actually represented almost a quarter of the entire Calypso fantasy auction earnings, which came in at $22,000.

Hodder said there are no directives in place that limit how much an MHA can donate per charity.

"Mr. Rideout is in total compliance with the rules as they then existed," Hodder said.

In 2006-2007, Rideout had a total allowance of $41,300. According to Hodder, Rideout spent $3,020 on per diem meals, $2,633 on per diem accommodations, $15,300 on travel and $19,016 on "other" - which is where any donations would normally be listed. He left $1,332 untouched.

As for Calypso, Rideout said that's who also got the extra money he was granted the previous year.

"The year before that when we got the additional $2,500 that's where that went, to Calypso as well," Rideout said, indicating no receipt was required. As for the donation made in March "a receipt was required and it was provided and it was made known publicly," he said.

Meanwhile, all parties in the House of Assembly have publicly stated that constituency allowances will not be used to make donations from this point on in keeping with the "spirit and intent" of the recently released Green Report.

The report recommended, among other things, that the practice be discontinued. That recommendation will not become law until after the provincial election in October.


Departing MHAs spent entire year's allotment

Rob Antle
The Telegram
Friday,February 2, 2007, p. A1

Departing and retiring MHAs may have served half a year in 2003, but they managed to spend most or all of their annual constituency allowances.

House of Assembly Speaker Harvey Hodder said they didn't break the regulations, because there weren't any.

"There were no rules that governed it," Hodder told The Telegram. "The access was not governed. The maximum was out there. It's not that people did it wrong. It's that there were no rules governing it whatsoever."

Hodder said only one departing MHA spent an equal amount of their constituency allowance compared to their time served - roughly 50 per cent of the total for 50 per cent of the year.

The rest of them spent a larger proportion.

"Some people who did not re-run in 2003 - they were only serving in the House for five months and a bit of that year - had actually spent 80 and 90 per cent of their constituency allowances," Hodder noted.

"There were no rules. They didn't do anything wrong - there were no rules governing it."

Hodder said that even MHAs who publicly announced in the spring that they would not run again spent the higher proportion.

The 2003-04 fiscal year began April 1. The election was called in late September, and held Oct. 21. The new government took office in early November. Newly elected MHAs received a constituency allotment pro-rated from the time they took office until the end of the fiscal year.

Hodder said a similar spending phenomenon won't happen in 2007, which also happens to be an election year.

"The old regime changed," he noted.

Auditor General John Noseworthy revealed this week that politicians secretly approved an extra $2,875 constituency payment in 2004. Forty-six of the 48 MHAs accepted the money, which required no receipts for approval.

The twice-delayed Green report on pay for provincial politicians is now set for release in mid-February. It is expected to make recommendations on constituency allowances, among other matters.