Thursday, December 22, 2016

Secret Cash-for-access organizers sought payments that exceeded federal contribution limits

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Secret Cash-for-access organizers sought payments that exceeded federal contribution limits

As part of an ongoing review of fundraising activities by the Liberal Party of Canada, The Globe and Mail spoke with invitees who described requests that suggest significant discrepancies between official ticket prices and the actual cost of entry.
One businesswoman, who splits her time between China and Canada, told The Globe she was invited to a May fundraiser by Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chair Benson Wong – an event billed as an intimate evening at Mr. Wong’s home with Justin Trudeau – at a cost of $4,500. She would only agree to be identified by her first name, Linda.
Another invitee, a Toronto-area businessman, said the same event was pitched to him by a Chinese-Canadian association at a cost of $5,000.
Both invitees spoke with The Globe on condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions for their businesses and reputations in the Chinese-Canadian community. And both declined the offers and said they did not know why the cost exceeded the $1,525 donation limit.
Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals have been under fire over the cash-for-access fundraisers, which provide attendees with access to the Prime Minister at private functions in exchange for donations to the Liberal Party’s war chest.
In the past year, the Prime Minister has attended at least three fundraising dinners at the homes of Chinese business leaders, where he has shared a table with dozens of wealthy and influential members of the community. Some were at the time seeking federal approval for business deals, while others have ties to China’s ruling Communist Party.
But the solicitation of large sums of money by event organizers raises further questions about the fundraisers.
The Canada Elections Act prohibits “indirect contributions” – donations made out in another person’s name. No anonymous contribution over $200 is allowed.
Canadian rules do allow a fundraising event’s organizers to charge extra for the “fair market value” of food, drink and entertainment expenses.
But some invitees say they have been asked for sums well in excess of what might be considered the cost of a typical dinner. One request reportedly came from Mr. Wong, who hosted a May dinner at his home attended by a number of wealthy businessmen, some of whom were seeking final federal approval to open a new bank in Canada.
Among those he called was the businesswoman, Linda, who is a permanent resident of Canada.
“Benson Wong told me it would cost $4,500,” she said. “He said to pay $4,500 to him.”
She declined, saying the dinner was not worth the price, particularly given the dozens of people expected to attend; the crowd would limit her exposure to the Prime Minister, with the only real value “getting a photo taken,” she said.
Reached by telephone about the allegations, Mr. Wong said: “You can ask these questions to the Prime Minister’s Office.” He then hung up.