May 05, 2016 - 8:30 AM
VICTORIA - British Columbia's conflict commissioner has ruled that exclusive fundraisers and a stipend paid to the premier by the B.C. Liberal Party are not conflicts because they do not amount to a 'private interest.'
Paul Fraser has released a report into a pair of complaints that alleged high-priced fundraisers attended by Premier Christy Clark breached the Members Conflict of Interest Act because they result in politicians receiving an illegal gift.
"The general concern is that it is inappropriate for politicians to 'sell access' to themselves in this manner," Fraser wrote.
Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher filed a complaint last month following reports that Clark participates in fundraising events where people pay thousands of dollars for exclusive access to her.
"We're not saying all fundraising events are illegal, just the ones that are exclusive, behind closed doors, where the list of invitees is not disclosed," Conacher said in April.
"If you are holding a big public event, with a low price, where anyone can buy a ticket and you give a speech and then you leave — maybe shake a few hands, that's it — you are not selling access to yourself.''
Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby also filed a complaint about the high-priced, exclusive fundraisers. He later filed another after it was revealed that Clark receives an annual stipend from the B.C. Liberal Party of up to $50,000 per year for work she does for the party.
Fraser's report said Eby described the stipend as being donations "laundered" through the Liberal Party.
But the conflict of interest commissioner disagreed.
"After considering all of the materials provided by the parties and their submissions, I am unable to conclude that the donations received by the Liberal Party in the circumstances described amount to a 'private interest' for the premier," Fraser wrote.
Fundraising for the party is a political benefit, not a private financial one, he added.
The money raised at the exclusive events goes to the B.C. Liberal Party and Clark cannot access it for her personal use, Fraser said, citing evidence from the premier's lawyer and the president of the party.
"It is my opinion that the premier was not in an apparent conflict of interest ... by virtue of participating in 'exclusive fundraising events for the B.C. Liberal Party or by receiving a leader's allowance from the B.C. Liberal Party," he wrote.
Neither Conacher nor Eby immediately responded to requests for comment on Fraser's decision.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016