Supporters beware. More than one contributor to the 2011 campaign of now-former Labrador MP Peter Penashue — contacted about their donation by The Telegram — have said they were not aware their donation had been found by Elections Canada to be an ineligible contribution or an overpayment to the campaign.
To date, coverage of the campaign finances that ultimately led to Penashue’s resignation has focused on $5,500 donated by senior staff at Pennecon, found to be a corporate contribution, and cheap flights offered to Penashue by Provincial Airlines and Innu Mikun Airlines.
However, other than Pennecon and the airlines, 13 corporations were found to have donated to
the campaign and other, individual donations, were ordered returned.
“I will say to you that I know some media were reporting some correspondence that was in the paper file that’s here — and you have to come in and see it — but there is a reference to the way the money came in,” said Elections Canada spokeswoman Diane Benson, when asked about individual donations later deemed to be illegal, corporate donations.
Benson said she couldn’t speak about any one Elections Canada file, including Penashue’s.
However, generally speaking, “if the money comes in as a corporate donation, if the cheque comes in as a corporate donation, it has to be reported as such. You can’t change it on the return,” she said.
The law forbidding corporate campaign donations is clearly stated in materials provided to anyone handling campaign finances.
“All the guides and all the stuff we have online, and all the advice to official agents, is you can only accept donations from individuals,” she said.
But the message has not reached everyone.
“I didn’t know there was a difference to be honest with you. That’s not a widely known fact,” said Brian Brace, a Penashue campaign donor.
He could not remember if he had provided his $300 donation through a private account or through his company, Brace’s Woodworking.
The donation was one of 28 contributions, totalling more than $46,500, now deemed as either ineligible contributions or overpayments to the campaign.
These donations have been ordered “returned to donors or otherwise dealt with in accordance.”
According to Elections Canada, campaign officials are to return overpayments to donors whenever possible, but the rules are less clear on what happens to monetary donations that should not have been accepted in the first place.
If not returned to donors, the money goes to the Receiver General of Canada.
Misspellings complicate filing
Official records filed by Penashue’s campaign manager Reg Bowers are plagued with misspellings — a not uncommon result of filing returns online, working from handwritten receipts.
Donor Larry Innes’ name, for example, was originally filed as “Larry Innis.”
His contribution did not make it past a standard post-election review by Elections Canada staff.
He has no idea why.
“As far as I’m concerned, I made an individual donation, I received a receipt from the campaign,” the lawyer said, when reached by phone Wednesday.
“I believe I donated $500, which was well within my personal contribution limits. … I haven’t received any notification whatsoever that that money was requested returned, because it was a valid donation,” he said.
And there are open questions about how the list of ineligible and illegal donations was compiled, since Elections Canada refuses to talk specifically about the Penashue file.
For example, Innes was apparently one of three people who donated to the campaign from his Toronto-based law office of Olthuis, Kleer and Townshend, also known as OKT Law.
The Telegram left voicemail messages and sent emails to Nancy Kleer and John Olthuis, attempting to confirm donations listed under their names, but received no response as of deadline.
Unlike Innes, the donations by Kleer and Olthuis were not ordered returned and were instead found — following the initial review of the Penashue file by Elections Canada staff — to be acceptable, individual campaign contributions.
Innes was asked if he was aware that anyone else from his firm had contributed to the campaign for the parliamentary seat in Labrador.
“No. I mean, we make our own decisions,” he said, apparently taken aback by the call.
Asked if he was aware his name was on a list of contributions ordered repaid, he responded: “No. Not at all.”
“This is the first I’ve heard. I’m not sure I should say anything further, other than you’re providing me with new information,” he said.
Not all cases clear
Some cases seem clearcut, where a director of a company has been listed as providing an individual donation, say $500, and Elections Canada has ordered a return of the same amount under the company name — suggesting the donation was accepted improperly, under the company’s letterhead or by way of a company account.
Other cases are not as clear.
For example, both Max Penashue and Paul Snelgrove are listed as donors to the campaign on the original filing, each contributing $1,000.
Neither were on the list of donors made following an initial review of the file by Elections Canada.
And neither are on the list of 28 ordered repayments.
So where did they go?
The list of ordered repayments includes $1,000 from Labrador Sales — a business run by Snelgrove. It also includes $1,000 from Dee Max Innu Tautshual Ltd. — a partnership of both Max Penashue and Snelgrove’s Wholesale.
It includes another $1,100, ordered repaid to Max Penashue’s business Pencal Plasterers.
In other words, the numbers don’t always easily match up.
The Telegram has been unable to reach Paul Snelgrove.
Max Penashue was reached by phone, but said he did not know anything about the campaign finance issues.
When asked why his name and the names of at least two of his companies are listed as being involved in donations to the campaign, he said, “I can’t say anything about that,” and then ended the call.
Elections Canada has not actually confirmed it is investigating Penashue’s 2011 campaign, despite statements to the contrary by some media outlets and members of Parliament.
If Penashue was formally investigated, charged and found guilty of illegal campaign contributions and overspending, he could be barred from running for his former seat for five years.
His re-election campaign, “Delivering for Labrador,” has already been launched in anticipation of a byelection.
“Mr. Penashue is doing the right thing in being accountable to the voters who elected him, and will ensure his campaign complies fully with the rules,” stated an emailed response to questions about his campaign.
Penashue was not available for an interview.
The former minister of intergovernmental affairs has so far laid blame for the campaign spending scandal at the feet of his “inexperienced volunteer” campaign manager, Reg Bowers.