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NEWS: PMO controls secret $1 million fund

CBC reports, “CBC News has learned that Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had control of a secret fund in the Prime Minister’s Office when he cut the now infamous $90,000 ‘personal cheque’ to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy. In exclusive interviews, sources familiar with the fund tell CBC the money in it comes from Conservative Party coffers, and at times has reached almost $1 million. Like all political party funds, more than half of all the cash in the secret PMO stash ultimately comes from taxpayers’ pockets. Individual donors to political parties receive generous tax credits. Parties also receive millions from taxpayers through a per-vote subsidy, which is being phased out by 2015.”

“Sources tell CBC that Harper’s chief of staff — to date, there have been four, including Wright — has exclusive signing authority over the fund, which was set up in the PMO when the Conservatives came to power in 2006. Its existence has apparently been a closely guarded secret for the past seven years, even within the Prime Minister’s Office. Only a few Conservative insiders know how the PMO cash stash has been spent. Like all political party financing, there is little external oversight. The fund is completely off-limits to the auditor general and even Elections Canada, which monitors party donations but not expenses outside of an election period. The only oversight outside the PMO appears to be the five-member board of the Conservative Fund of Canada, the party’s fundraising arm and source of the money in the clandestine account.”

“Harper and other Conservatives have insisted that no government or party funds were involved in the $90,000 Wright-Duffy deal, and that the prime minister’s former chief of staff used his personal funds to help the senator repay improper expense claims. Officials in Harper’s office and the party deny the money Wright gave to Duffy came from the secret PMO fund. But no one is denying the fund could have been used to reimburse Wright at a later date, had the deal with Duffy not erupted into a public scandal.”

Earlier this week, Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig wrote, “Wright’s role as one of the party’s key money men bears scrutiny, since the notion that he acted on his own — paying off Duffy with his own money without telling the prime minister — is central to Harper’s insistence that he knew nothing about the possibly illegal payment to Duffy. …The Conservative narrative about Wright recklessly freelancing a private solution to the Duffy problem seems out of sync with what is known about Wright — that he’s a team-playing party loyalist who is highly disciplined (getting up at 4 a.m. to run 20 kilometres), with a strong connection to the money-raising side of the party. A public inquiry is clearly needed to establish how the Duffy payoff was orchestrated — which is essential for democratic accountability of the Harper government.”

For more, please read:
PM’s former chief of staff controlled secret Tory fund
NEWS: Conservative MP resigns saying PMO ‘has too much power’
VIEW: Nigel Wright’s role as party bagman deserves scrutiny, says McQuaig
UPDATE: Ethics of PMO meeting with Barrick Gold left unanswered
Wright pressured Newfoundland to complete CETA deal