Showing posts sorted by relevance for query political donations. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query political donations. Sort by date Show all posts

12 February 2015

Money and Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador #nlpoli

Some people are making a big deal over the fact that the judge heading the boundaries commission made political donations to both the Liberal and Conservative parties in the province before he was appointed to the Supreme Court Trial Division.

Justice Robert Stack made donations totalling $1,718 to the provincial Liberal Party between 1996 and 2003 and $2,032 to the provincial Conservative party between 2001 and the time he was appointed by the federal government as a Supreme Court judge in 2009.

No one has actually explained how what is a normal activity for ordinary citizens in every province in Canada is problematic in this case.  There’s just the innuendo that goes with a comment like this:
“Nobody's really questioning that Justice Stack has the qualifications to do what he's being asked to do, it's about whether or not there are other connections that then make it a little more questionable.”  [See new comment by Kelly Blidook at end of post]
Insinuation and Innuendo aren’t evidence of anything except the exceedingly bad judgement of the people making the comments and the news media who are repeating them.

30 March 2015

More like a snapshot than a panorama #nlpoli

Last week, a group called Samara released the results of its research on Canadians and politics.  Democracy 360 they called it.

The media locally covered it, if for no other reason than it showed that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians trailed the country in things like donations to political parties.  Didn’t fit our perception that we all love our politics, some reporters said.

One of the news stories went to Memorial University and talked to students. Results are shocking said one student politician. Students are really politically engaged, apparently.  They talk about politics a lot.

Democracy 360 and the coverage of it are more good examples example of why it pays to look at the details to find out what is going on.

07 February 2014

Following the Money #nlpoli

After Bill Barry  - the only declared candidate -  former cabinet minister Shawn Skinner is the least imaginary of the potential candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“What I’m running for is to form the next government,”  Skinner told the Telegram’s James McLeod.  What I am running for.  Present tense.  Definitive. 

Not what I am thinking about running for.  Not what I might run for.

What I am running for.

And yet Skinner hasn’t actually announced that he is running.  The main reason he gave to the Telegram is understandable:  the party hasn’t announced the rules for the contest yet.

One of the rules Skinner is particularly concerned about is the spending limit for the campaign.

16 November 2012

A friendly audience #nlpoli

Kathy Dunderdale defended the Muskrat Falls project at a speech on Wednesday night, according to’s story.

That’s an odd phrase given that Dunderdale was speaking to a Tory party fundraiser, as the headline noted.  That would be the textbook definition of a friendly audience for any talk about Muskrat Falls.

But if you look at the record of political donations you can see some rather interesting things.

19 December 2011

Party Political Finance: much more to read #nlpoli #cdnpoli

The Telegram took a very light look on Saturday at the most recent figures on political contributions released by the provincial elections office a couple of months ago.

For some reason, the Telly singled out Aliant for its record of donations even though the telecommunications company is by no means the big story in the 2010 figures or indeed of the recent public record of party donations.

If you want a more detailed analysis, then check these posts from SRBP and labradore:

- srbp -

03 June 2015

Duff in the Hole #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Dwight Ball’s announcement last week about Liberal Party funding was a good example of how relatively simple mistakes can turn a good-news announcement into a major public relations problem.

Another aspect to the story is a good example of how false information can make the story worse.

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.

22 October 2014

Get the police out of politics and politics out of the police #nlpoli

tacticalteamThey just don’t look like recruiting ads.

That’s the most striking thing about a series of television ads airing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There’s no sense of an invitation to come and join the group.  At least, there’s nothing of that in the images themselves.

riotConsider the number of shots that have the police facing the camera.  The effect puts the viewer in an adversarial position, especially when faced with the tactical team or the riot team in these shots, above and right.

The only place you see the invitation is in the last image, a graphic that looks like this:RNCA

Now you get why these ads aren’t really about recruiting.

See it?

25 February 2014

Non-voters and Influence #nlpoli

There is a new scourge among us.

An evil that causes “problems”.

Russell Wangersky found them and wrote about them this past weekend.

They are the people who do not vote.

10 November 2006

'Allo, 'Allo. What's all this then?

Scanning the list of political contributions available at the Chief Electoral Officer's website yields some curious things.

Left: The ethics constable just felt something was not right about the whole situation.

Some of this stuff has been raised in other places but there's one people missed that really speaks to the need for much stronger restrictions on political contributions in the province.

Circumstances have changed dramatically since the early 1990s when the political contribution laws were last revised. There is a pressing need to revise them dramatically in light of the sort of things that have been going on over the past decade involving both the Liberal party and the Progressive Conservatives.

Here are two examples:

1. This is just plain wrong: There have been instances of town councils giving money to political parties. Like Cottlesville with the Liberals and Pasadena and Stephenville to the Tories in different years.

There is simply no reason for a town council to be spending public money in this way. Full stop.

2. This is just beyond wrong, if that's possible. Bond Papers previously raised questions about publicly funded entities - like health care foundations around the province - or other health-related charities taking donations from the Premier's family foundations.

The practice has continued in 2005. According to Revenue Canada's most recent filling on the Williams family Foundation, donations went to several health-related charities, some of which are directly tied to the provincial government:

- Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation: $1, 000
- Trinity Conception Placentia Health Foundation: $500
- Cerebral Palsy Association: $500
- Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus: $500

Then there's the Cox's Cove Wellness Foundation. Ed Joyce described the foundation this way in the House of Assembly in 2004:
This Foundation is a non-profit organization recently established in the Town of Cox'’s Cove for the sole purpose of helping residents of the town who are required to travel to other areas of the Province or out of Province for medical treatment.
In this case, we have a foundation operated a municipality in the province that raises money to do what the provincial government is supposed to do: namely financially support people who have to head out of the province for medical treatment not available here.

Great purpose and God will surely smile on the Williams Family Foundation for this humanitarian effort. But the question we have to ask is why any foundation must exist in the province to do something government should be doing?

Fundamentally, the problem is this: one sort of organization is funded by the public purse or is operated by a public entity and may need to lobby for added funds.

It gets a bit sticky if the Premier is putting cash in your pocket, even if it is from a legitimate family charitable foundation. This money changing hands compromises both sides. And even if the set-up works on a particularly ethical set of politicians, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - to stop a future group of people with a less highly refined sense of ethics to start linking private charitable donations to political silence during times of controversy.

The other type of organization - the private charity - gets equally compromised if it has to take issue with a government decision having received moneylegitimatelyy given by a legitimate charity for legitimate purposes.

The whole business of money changing hands like this just compromises the relationships involved and that's why some donations just shouldn't be made.

But even if all that was just fine, what should we think of the Western Health Care Corporation making a political contribution in 2004 to the ruling Progressive Conservative Party? It did. $150.

Holy ethical collapse, Batman!

The amount doesn't matter; the problem is the very idea of an arm of government making a partisan political donation.

To make matters worse, 2004 was the same year when the Williams Family Foundation donated $2000 to the Western Regional Hospital Foundation, the corporation's associated charity.

Let's be clear: there is nothing to suggest that there was any quid pro quo, arrangement or anything else going on here other than a legitimate and generous contribution by the Premier's family charity.

But why in the name of merciful heavens would anyone at the Western Health Care Corporation think it was okay to make a contribution to any political party ever?

10 February 2014

Following the money: Lawyers giving back #nlpoli

When Nalcor needs a bunch of Quebec lawyers, one of the firms they go to is Fasken Martineau. Nalcor has been relying on FM for lots of things over the years, including the infamous series of appeals to the Quebec energy regulator.

Last week, FM issued a news release about the close of the financial deal for the project.  It included a quote from Xeno Martis, the lead lawyer from FM for the project:

"Fasken Martineau conceived and proposed a modified "wrap structure" which sheltered the lenders from any project risk and provided them with direct recourse to the Sovereign," added Mr. Martis.

That was important, as one of the underwriters described in a Financial Post story a couple of weeks ago:

“The benefit of the guarantee was that no one had to look at the merits of the underlying project.”

Whatever the provincial government paid Fasken Martineau via Nalcor, that bit of work was worth it.  After all, as a result of the way FM structured the deal, investors were protected from any risk and none had to look at the merits of the project before putting money into it.

The provincial Conservatives can also thank FM for other cash.

23 May 2013

Beth and Expenses #nlpoli #cdnpoli

All this talk of Senator Beth Marshall and her hefty annual stipend for chairing a committee that has met once in two years brings to mind the good senator’s role in the House of Assembly patronage scam, a.k.a. the spending scandal.

Marshall is credited with first sniffing something was amiss when she went hunting for Paul Dick’s expenses in 2001-ish.  She was barred from the House by the legislature’s internal economy commission.  The members were Liberals and Tories and, as accounts have it, they unanimously wanted to keep Beth’s nose out of their files.

But if you go back and look, you’ll have a hard time finding any indication Beth thought something else was on the go.  While we didn’t know it at the time, subsequent information confirmed that members had been handing out public cash pretty generously by that point. Yet Marshall has never, ever indicated she felt something more than a few wine and art purchases might have been amiss.

That’s important because of Marshall’s record once she got into the House herself as a member in 2003.

01 August 2006

The lure of soft money

In the wake of the Watergate scandal over 30 years ago, the United States Congress implemented the first of many reforms that set limits the amounts of money that can be donated for and spent on elections and that required disclosure of the names of who gave money to candidates in federal elections.

The most recent round of reforms, in 2002 aimed at restricting access to so-called "soft money". This is money that was spent on purposes which were political in nature but which fell outside the rules on election financing. Unlike "hard money" that fell within the rules, soft money is often never disclosed in any way. Donors are invisible to the public. How the money is spent is also hidden or at least partially obscured from public view.

In the relentless pressure of American elections, both candidates and incumbents have become crafty in finding and using soft money. The most recent tactic is for incumbents to establish private charities that are legal, above-board and aimed at a specific purpose within the incumbents own electoral district. Armed with charitable status, the politician's private organization can now receive donations and issue tax receipts. It can spend money, giving the politician full credit - and all the associated publicity - for good work. In some instances, campaign staffers can find employment in between elections with the politician's charitable organization. Perhaps the most well-known of these soft money charities is the Ted Stevens Foundation, "an Alaska non-profit corporation created by Alaskans to recognize and honor the career and public service" of the senator from the most northern state.

Seen in that context, recent revelations that members of the House of Assembly use public money to make private gifts and donations around the province take on a decidedly different colour.

Newfoundland and Labrador has relatively few restrictions on election financing compared to other jurisdictions in Canada. However, the 1991 election reforms did restrict how much may be spent on campaigns during election periods. The spending cap is not high by modern standards but it is based - among other things - on the understanding that in a small place where turn-out on polling day is relatively small, a handful of votes can swing an election in a given district one way or another.

While it may not have been the intention, local politicians have created a particularly pernicious form of soft money spending through their perversion of the House of Assembly constituency accounts. Like all soft money, the gifts and donations are essentially invisible. While they may be backed by receipts, the details of who received money, how much money they got and when they got is not available for public scrutiny. The system set by the members of the legislature themselves is the epitome of unaccountability and opaqueness, no matter how many times politicians insisted otherwise.

And with all due respect to the commissioner for members' interests, our political society is long past the naive, almost child-like view that all politicians are honourable and must be presumed to be so until proven otherwise. For one thing, there is ample evidence from many jurisdictions, including our own, that while the majority of politicians are upstanding and ethical, there are always a few who will skirt the edges of propriety and, in some instances, the law.

For another thing, if the entire system of spending is as comfortably hidden from public scrutiny as the constituency allowances have been, there simply is no opportunity for anyone to demonstrate impropriety. The argument may be convenient, but it doesn't pass the most cursory scrutiny.

In the soft money context, the Williams Family Foundation (WFF) also takes on an interesting cast as well. From every perspective it is legally established, hands out money only to identified and worthy charitable purposes and complies with all the legal requirements; but these are the legal requirements for a charity.

This is no ordinary charity, however. It is intimately tied to an active politician. As the Premier and his staff have demonstrated repeatedly since 2001, they are not above drawing very loud, public attention to the generosity of politician Danny Williams.

We would be naive in the extreme - we would be willfully blind - if we did not understand that news media coverage of a cheque being handed from the "Danny Williams Foundation" did not produce a considerable political effect for politician Williams. It is the same effect, albeit on a much smaller scale, that public money has brought for politician Gerry Reid or a host of other politicians spending public money on gifts and donations.

Danny Williams apparently sustains the WFF with his political salary. Canada Revenue Agency documents appear to confirm this, although there are some questions that arise from the public information that is available. For example, even though WFF obtained charitable status in February 2003, it lists the total contributions for the year as being only $20, 000. It also appears to be missing several donations made after that date and in advance of the election.

Some of the Premier's defenders - many of them no doubt organized by the Premier's Office - have held the view that what the Premier does with his salary is his own business. This would be true were it not for two over-riding factors.

First, the Premier could claim his salary is private if he were a private citizen. He is not. Williams is an active politician and as much as he may whine about the goldfish bowl of scrutiny in which he lives, that scrutiny he finds so burdensome is the heart of the transparency and accountability he claims to embody.

Second, the Premier could claim his salary is private had he not made such a huge public issue of the fact that his overwhelming personal wealth has enabled him to donate his personal salary to charity. Danny Williams himself made the salary a public issue. Williams can scarcely claim privacy now when people are asking where the money goes any more than Brian Tobin, amid accusations Tobin was trying to finagle a job for his wife, could whine about his wife being a private person when Tobin used her as a political prop at every opportunity. One cannot have ones cake and eat it too.

Ultimately though, none of this is to suggest that the WFF is anything more than a well-intentioned charity, funded by Williams himself. He has gained and will continue to gain an undeniable personal advantage from spending public money - his salary - as gifts and donations through the family foundation. But the political and ethical issues raised by the WFF can be addressed by some simple administrative arrangements.

The real problem with this local version of soft money is the precedent Williams and his colleagues in the House of Assembly have set. Even if Chief Justice Derek Greene proposes to ban gifts and donations of public money for incumbetn legislators, Danny Williams and the WFF have given future wiley and unscrupulous politicians a model to use for purposes that may prove to be far less virtuous than those of Danny Williams.

The lure of soft money is a powerful one indeed. If all people were saints, as Chuck Furey assumes of politicians, then we would need no laws at all. However, all men and women are not as pure as we might wish and as virtuous as a single politician and his family charity might be, we cannot ignore the potential that others of much lower ethical standards will not take advantage of the precedent.

After all, it's not like we haven't seen a set of rules for constituency allowances set tightly and appropriately at one point only to find the rules tossed out the window by a later crowd of politicians.

20 November 2015

The Undull Election #nlpoli

The only people who think this is a dull election don’t know anything about politics.


On the day before nominations closed for candidates,  the governing provincial Conservatives admitted on Thursday that they probably won’t have a full slate of candidates.  Reporters were quick to remind everyone that we haven’t seen that situation since 1972.

That was the year the Conservatives won a majority government and put an end to 23 years of uninterrupted rule by the Liberals under Joe Smallwood. That was also the first time since Confederation that we’d had a change of political party governing the province.  The second one of the two in the 20th century came in 1989.

Think about that for a second.  In the 40 years after Confederation we changed governing parties precisely twice.  Come December we will have done precisely the same thing within the first 15 years of the new century.

13 May 2014

Promises, promises… 2003 contracts and tendering edition #nlpoli

In light of the controversy about Humber Valley Paving, here are some of the Conservative promises made in 2003 about contracts and public tendering, controls on political donations, special committees of the legislature, and disclosure of lobbying activities.

Each of them bears on the HVP tendering controversy in one way or another.  You humble e-scribbler has highlighted some of the sentences in bold because they contrast so starkly with that the Conservatives did once they got into office. 

Note the bit about revising the Public Tender Act.  The Conservatives promised it in 2003.  They gave notice that they planned to introduce a new public tendering law in the spring 2012 session of the legislature.  And then it disappeared.  They promised campaign finance reform and did nothing once in office.


25 September 2013

The Beast #nlpoli

This week, people across Canada who are interested in the public right to access government information mark a thing called Right to Know Week.

It’s a time to “raise awareness of an individual’s right to access government information, while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.”

People who are genuinely interested in a healthy democracy and in the effective operation of our federal, provincial, and municipal governments support freedom of information. 

It’s that simple.

17 February 2012

The Joy of Political Giving, By-Elections edition #nlpoli

Official election finance returns for two by-elections in 2010 and 2011 show an interesting pattern of political contributions.

The most interesting tidbit is that the Tories had to pull out all the financial stops to ensure Vaughan Granter won Humber West. The party transferred more than $17,000 to his campaign.

The single largest expense for the campaign was for workers’ travel.  The Granter campaign spent $14,000 paying for campaign workers’ travel. In addition, the Tory party spent another $10,000 of their own on worker travel. In total, the Tory party spent $28,000 on the by-election.

The returns are the by-elections in and Conception Bay East-Bell Island (2010) and Humber West (2011).  The table below  shows the contributions broken down into personal donations and corporate ones.  CBE-BI is on the top and Humber West is on the bottom.


It’s the mismatch between the personal and the corporate that stands out in Conception Bay East-Bell Island.  Tory David Brazil received 43 corporate donations averaging $470 each, but had contributions from only 18 individuals.  

Among the corporate donors to Brazil’s campaign was a numbered Ontario company that apparently operates an Italian restaurant.  1148305 Ontario Inc. (New Hope Properties) also donated to the Ontario Liberal Party in Cambridge Ontario in 2003 and 2007.

Brazil also got donations from OCI and the Pennecon as well as the gang of loyal givers from the Old Man’s old law firm.

Liberal Joy Buckle also had a large number of corporate donors.  The more interesting ones show a connection to the former leader of the Liberal party and the current one.

New Democrat George Murphy was the only one of the three by-election candidates who turned out more personal than corporate donations.  among his big benefactors was wannabe party leader and current MHA for St. John’s North Dale Kirby.

Check what they spent their money on and you can see the huge advantage incumbency gives you.  The Tories raised more than $37,000 compared to about $15,000 for the NDP and slightly more than half that for the Liberals.  But the Tories were able to transfer out of the campaign more money than the Liberals raised in total and almost as much as the NDP spent.

Out on Humber West, the story was different.  Liberal Mark Watton turned up 47 donations from individuals and 11 from corporations.  The geographic origin of Watton’s donors  - across Canada and one from France - attests to his wide personal appeal and connections.

While Watton’s successful Tory opponent netted a large number of corporate donations, a couple of them might be looking for his help these days.  Well, at least four members of the Corner Brook Firefighters Association, newly out of work thanks to Vaughan Granter’s Tory colleagues on the Corner Brook city council.  Maybe the boys can ask Vaughan to intercede on their behalf.  They did give him $500  - via the association - in the by-election.

Their spending and income statements, though are where things get really interesting.  Watton raised way more than Granter.  The Tory party had to transfer $17,000 into Granter’s campaign. Granter only raised $14,600 on his own compared to $25,000 for Watton.

- srbp -

27 September 2008

Maybe next time we can make s'mores

Walter Noel is becoming something of a legend as a political pyromaniac.

He's seems intent on constantly setting fire to himself or, to be accurate, the smoldering remains of his political reputation.

His staunch defense of spending his constituency cash on gifts of perfume, crystal and clothing serves as gasoline which Noel insists on pouring over himself throughout this campaign.

He'll happily splash anyone else within reach, as well, as he did this week with both his opponent Jack Harris and his fellow Liberal candidate Judy Foote. Those two have been able to douse any fires with simple, straightforward explanations. 

The problem for Noel - and the flamethrower he brings to his self-roasting  - is his repeated excuse that his spending was within the rules and approved by the "highest officials of the House of Assembly."

Sure, Walter. 

We already know the "rules" were all but non-existent and one of those "highest" officials is currently facing criminal charges.

Noel has even gone so far as to claim his bone-headed actions in defended the misspending are brave or some such bit of silliness.

Well, the flames were barely fading from his latest round of bravery when the Telegram dutifully reminded everyone in the Saturday edition that Noel managed to blow an entire year's worth of public money in a single six month spree between April and October 2003. The genesis of this latest story was a news release Noel issued defending himself on the whole issue which itself resulted from some other media story generated by yet another brave defence by Noel


Noel's top expense that year was advertising: $3,261. He spent nearly $2,950 on over 50 restaurant and food claims - an average of about two per week. Brochures cost Noel just over $2,000; donations, nearly $1,800 more. Noel was also reimbursed for $1,367 in alcohol-only purchases at liquor stores.

Bear in mind that at the time Noel was a provincial cabinet minister with access to another sizeable expense account. We can only wait for the juicy revelations that come from the Telegram's investigation of that spending as well.

In itself, the spending is something voters might possibly have been able to get over in time.  Noel's repeated use of what amounts to easily refutable excuses - the "highest officials" crap - calls into question his judgment.

And his vehemence doesn't just make one a little uncomfortable. 

Coupled with his ludicrous plan to study building a tunnel to Bell Island, his unsubstantiated claims about his part in the 2004/05 offshore transfer deal, his pseudo-separatist dalliances, and his ranting about the "socialist" hordes in the New Democratic Party and their overspending way, his repeated defence of his own overspending suggests Noel is completely out of touch with anything vaguely resembling reality, political or otherwise.

Three things follow from all this:

First, the Liberal Party in Newfoundland and Labrador needs to tighten up its candidate vetting process and candidate selection process.  Big time.

Second, Noel's political future is deader than dead to the point that his vote count in this federal election might wind up being barely above his 1974 first effort.  Incidentally, that's when he ran on behalf of the "socialist" hordes.

Third,  Noel's only political value to this race - and it is sad to see it happen - is to give the only bit of light entertainment to a race otherwise made boring now that Danny Williams has abandoned his Family Feud campaign entirely.

If Noel wants to keep setting his own political ass on fire, there's not much any of us can do except sit back and shake our heads.

Oh, yes.

And maybe next time we can make s'mores.

That's about the only way Noel's candidacy can be said to have contributed anything to the current election.


16 February 2015

Money and Politics – the Chronic Enforcement Problem #nlpoli

We can have all the rules in the world about how political parties and political candidates receive and spend money in Newfoundland and Labrador, but they are useless without meaningful enforcement.

It’s been illegal since 2011 for municipalities to make political contributions.  The association representing the province’s towns and cities knew about the 2011 amendment to the Municipalities Act.

The people at the electoral office didn’t.

18 July 2006

The Premier and the charitable impulse

A check of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website reveals there are currently 389 family foundations in Canada with charitable status. That means they can grant tax receipts for donations received.

There are two family foundations in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Johnson Family Foundation supports the Grand Concourse Authority and the Geo Centre, among other things. The Williams Family Foundation Inc, (WFF) featured this past weekend in The Independent, provides assistance to groups and individuals focusing on poverty reduction and education.

Family foundations, like many charitable groups are organized to conduct philanthropic workin a variety of areas of social concern, while providinga fromal grant-making structure, legal and financial safeguards and financial benefits. They are designed to support and encourage philanthropy in Canada.

Some of the family foundations are endowed; that is, they have assets and use the revenue from those assets and from donations - usually from family members - to give financial support to groups and individuals that meet the foundation's criteria.

Other foundations are smaller or merely operate on the basis of annual donations. Both the Johnson and Williams foundations appear to operate in this way, although the Johnson foundation has annual revenues more than 10 times that of the Williams foundation in the most recent year for which reports are available from Canada Revenue Agency.

Of the 389 registered family foundations in Canada, though the Williams family Foundation is different in one significant respect. It is the only family foundation, and apparently the only grant-making foundation at all in the country, that is associated with a serving politician let alone a sitting premier.

For that reason alone, the operation of the Williams family Foundation would merit public scrutiny for reasons discussed below.

But the Premier himself put his family's foundation in the public spotlight when he committed three years ago to donate his entire salary as first minister to charity through the Williams Family Foundation. The public has a right to know how much has been donated to charity, even if the individuals receiving the money are known only to the foundation and to federal taxation authorities.

The first problem, unfortunately, is that we don't know where the premier's salary has gone. CRA filings by WFF indicate that the WFF received only $20, 000 in donations in 2003 and $110, 000 in 2004. Both amounts do not match the approximately $150, 000 pre-tax salary provided to the premier.

The second problem that arises from the Williams Family Foundation is that it apparently is not run at arms length from the Premier's Office. In the first year following the October 2003 election, a member of the Premier's Office political staff appared in the Western Star presenting a WFF cheque in the city represented by the Premier in the legislature. This past weekend members of the Premier's Office provided official comment on behalf of the foundation even though the Premier himself is not a registered director of the charity.

This second problem is the crucial one. It is rare, indeed likely unprecedented, for a politician in Canada to be so closely associated with an organization donating over $100, 000 per year to groups and unnamed individuals in the province. Some of it is apparently directed to registered charities but at least half the funds distributed by WFF in 2004 went to unnamed individuals.

It is rare since the act of charitable gift-making on such a scale raises concerns about a conflict of interest between the politician and the recipients. Were the foundation run at arms length from the Premier himself, one would have almost no argument. But given that the Premier is apparently intimately associated with the operation of the family foundation, there is the very real potential that the Premier's charitable work - as sincere as it is - also carries with it a conflict in the recipient between his or her direct, personal need, his or her political choices and a natural desire to display gratitude for assistance received.

In short, every private gift from the Williams Family Foundation - no matter how worthy - places the recipient in an unacceptable position given that it comes openly, and without doubt from the Premier.

Some of the donations to registered charities create similar potential problems. In two years, the WFF gave money to foundations associated with health care boards in the province. The directors of these boards ought to be able to speak openly and to take issue with government policy from time to time. That is what they get paid to do. However, these directors and senior officials are placed in an unacceptably difficult position when their foundations receive grants from the WFF.

In the same way, advocates for health causes such as the cancer society, the school lunch program or the arthritis society may be compromised in their ability to advocate openly on behalf of their clients when cash donations are being received from the Premier's family foundation.

No one should question the Premier's motives in establishing the Williams Family Foundation or doubt the work the Foundation does.

However it is entirely inappropriate for a serving politician, let alone the province's first minister to be directly associated with providing money to anyone in the province, except through the provincial government's budget.

Anything else represents a compromise of the politicial system that is every bit as serious as allowing cabinet ministers to actively conduct any other type of business from their ministerial offices.

After all, how can a voter hold the Premier and his administration properly accountable for their decisions when he or she is simply so thankful that the "Danny Williams foundation" ensured her aging mother did not lose her eyesight? It obviously never occured to a recent caller to Night Line that the Premier and his administration ought to cover such medical treatment for everyone under the province's medical care plan.

The premier must move quickly to place the family foundation at arms length from his office.

Otherwise he may well be damaging our political system, taking it back to a point where it has not been in the better part of a century or more.