16 April 2009

Chief electoral officer refuses to investigate alleged campaign finance irregularity of his old political party

According to CBC’s David Cochrane, a Progressive Conservative organizer  received $3,000 for working on the by-election in St. Barbe in 2000-2001.

Nothing irregular in that.

What is irregular is that the money came from then-Tory leader Ed Byrne’s constituency allowance, according to Cochrane, billed as work in Byrne’s Kilbride district. Presumably that much detail is in the agreed statement of facts in Byrne’s recent conviction on fraud charges in the House of Assembly spending scandal.

What’s even more irregular is that neither the Progressive Conservative Party nor the Tory district campaign listed the salary expense in their expense records filed for the by-election, according  to the CBC report.

And if all that wasn’t odd enough, the province’s chief electoral officer is refusing to investigate the matter. 

Cochrane said Paul Reynolds  will not pursue the matter further and considers that the St. Barbe by-election was – to use the words from the CBC Here and Now report - “conducted properly.”

Reynolds is the former Tory party president (during the 1980s) and long-time PC Party worker who was appointed to the supposedly non-partisan electoral office job two years ago. 

Reynolds appointment shortly before the 2007 general election was not without controversy.  A Telegram editorial at the time noted the issues:

In other provinces, the office of chief electoral officer is filled by experienced impartial professionals with a track record of either elections law or past experience organizing elections.

Here, Premier Danny Williams has selected a person not only without those qualifications, but with clear and obvious ties to a political party. In fact, with clear and obvious ties to Williams’ own party.

Williams’ choice for what is supposed to be a politically impartial position is Paul Reynolds, who, among other things, was a director of the PC district association on the day he was picked, a role he has filled for several years.

Questioned about the $128,506-per-year appointment, Williams suggested that politics didn’t matter, and that it wouldn’t be right to disqualify Conservatives simply because of their political stripe.

Cochrane’s report won’t be the end of the affair since it left too many unanswered questions about the St. Barbe by-election, possible violations of the province’s election finance laws and the chief electoral officer’s quickie decision on the matter .

Buried update:  There’s a short version of the Cochrane story tacked on the end of a story about Byrne’s date in court on Friday for sentencing.