Advertisement
News

The Liberal Party Has Scheduled More Than 100 Cash-For-Access Events in 2016 Alone

Want some quality time with Justin Trudeau? That'll likely cost you $1,525.

by Justin Ling
Oct 28 2016, 4:42pm

Photo via AP

If you wanted an audience with Finance Minister Bill Morneau during his two-night engagement in Vancouver this past April, it would have cost you between $1,000 and $1,500.

If you were looking for facetime with the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister for Infrastructure and Communities, in Surrey in February, that would run a cool $500.

But for some quality time with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself, at one of his 16 fundraising events held in 2016—which have been dubbed by the media 'cash-for-access' events—you'll likely be paying the maximum allowed: $1,525.

These details, which come from a breakdown of every Liberal Party fundraiser and "appreciation event" for deep-pocket donors held in 2016, shows that the governing party has been charging a hefty sum to be in the same room as a senior member of the Canadian government.

All-told, the Liberals have held 89 fundraisers so far this year, and have another 10 scheduled for October and November. The list includes all fundraisers with ministers and parliamentary secretaries, as well as the one event with the prime minister's senior advisor, Gerry Butts.

For quality time with Butts, Trudeau's right-hand man, in Charlottetown in August, it would be a steal at just $125.

Most events also have special pricing for youth members, or for those who are already donating large amounts to the party.

Information on the fundraisers were provided to VICE Canada by the Liberal Party, while information on upcoming events was pulled from the party website. The event pages on the Liberal Party website are taken offline immediately after they happen, and are not cached by Google or the WayBackMachine.

Attention has honed in on the fundraising practices in recent weeks, as news has emerged that senior Liberal ministers have been spending their evenings rubbing elbows with Liberal donors that, during the day, work in jobs that might put them in that same minister's office.

A Globe and Mail story, for example, showed that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is slated to attend a $500-a-ticket fundraiser with the chairman of a generic drug manufacturer and the head of a large investment firm, amongst others.

Another upcoming fundraiser, scheduled for this evening, will see Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, attend a $400-per-person "Vineyards of Ontario" event hosted by a Liberal volunteer who, according to her LinkedIn page, is the president of a company that does "dynamic communications and fundraising consulting services to industry, government and non-profit sector."

The numbers show that Morneau was the most prolific fundraiser, with 20 events either under his belt or coming up later this year. Trudeau is a close second.

The fundraisers are a mix of local events, that raise money for constituency associations, and national events, that pour money directly into party coffers.

From there, Sohi and Bains each had nine events apiece, with tickets ranging from $175 to $1,500.

Under Canadian political financing law, each individual donor can only give $1,525 per year, for all political parties and candidates.

While many ministers charged $1,500, the prime minister was the only one to ask for the full $1,525 to attend some of his events. Other events with the prime minister went as low as $700.

Who wouldn't pay to spend time with these hunks? Photo via The Canadian Press

Those who have contributed at least $1,500 are members of the elite Laurier Club, the party's exclusive group for their top-tier donors.

According to the Liberal website, becoming a member of the club will get you "invitations to exclusive Laurier Club events across the country, attended by prominent members of the Liberal Party" and "insider updates and briefings."

Braeden Caley, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party vigorously defended the fundraising events, writing in a statement that "federal political donations are governed by some of the most strict political financing rules in Canada and all of North America—and rightly so."

Caley added that "the Liberal Party of Canada and all of its MPs and volunteers often host hundreds of open and public events each month – as part of our work to be the most open and inclusive political movement in Canada. In fact, the Liberal Party of Canada is the first and only federal political party that has made it completely free for Canadians to join, get involved, and participate in party affairs, regardless of their background."

The Liberal spokesperson proceeded to list a number of fundraisers where Conservative Members of Parliament also charged large sums for access.

And while it is true that the strict donation limits, originally brought in by the Conservative Party after a series of scandals highlighted the power of money in the Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, Trudeau's Liberal Party has developed a strategy to beef up their fundraising, despite the limits.

Under the 'Leader's Circle,' a tier up from the Laurier Club, Liberal members who have donated the maximum are encouraged to sign up at least 10 others to also donate the maximum allowed. The process, usually referred to in the United States as "bundling," creates mega-fundraisers.

"With limits on political fundraising, donor networking and bundling are of the utmost importance to growing the Party," reads the Leader's Circle website.

"Leader's Circle members can look forward to a variety of recognition opportunities including an annual dinner with the Leader and invitations to events and discussions with leaders within the Party. Top Leader's Circle members will be recognized within the program and the Party."

In the United States, each bundler is required to report all of the donations they've pulled in to the Federal Election Commission. No such reporting requirement exists in Canada.

The breakdown provided by the party to VICE Canada shows that there were 31 "appreciation events" for Laurier Club members in 2016 where ministers attended.

Morneau was present for six, from Charlottetown to Saskatoon, while Prime Minister Trudeau was on hand for two, including one in Ottawa.

Cross-referencing the event list with Elections Canada election financing database showed that there were plenty of prominent Canadians who were willing to shell out the $1,500 to see Trudeau on the exact days he was holding fundraisers.

Terry Booth and Steve Dobler, co-founders of Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis Enterprises, a publicly-traded medical marijuana company, donated $1,525 each to the Liberal Party on March 3rd, 2016, the same day that Trudeau was holding a $1,525-per-ticket fundraising event in Vancouver. It was the first time that either Booth or Dobler donation to a political party since at least 2004, when the database begins.

Rubsun Ho, CEO of Crowdmatrix, a private tech investment firm, paid $1,525 on May 19, the same day that Trudeau held two $1,525 fundraising events in Toronto. Thomas Milroy, a senior advisor at the Bank of Montreal and former CEO of their capital markets division, also donated the maximum on the same day.

When reporters in Ontario highlighted a similar cash-for-access system in Queen's Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne brought in strict limits on these fundraisers, banning any sitting politician or candidate from attending any fundraisers at all. That bill is currently being debate in the Ontario legislature.

No such legislation is currently being considered on the federal level.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.

Tagged:
vice
Politics
Canada
Trudeau
cash
Justin Ling
Vice Blog
liberals
Justin Ling VICE
Bill Morneau
Amarjeet Sohi
Aurora Cannabis Enterprises
Navdeep Bains