Tides Canada connections to Vision Vancouver and associates now under scrutiny by Revenue Canada
Was money from charitable sources funneled into Vision Vancouver's coffers to pay down their debt and to mount their 2008 election bid? That's a question we've raised here at City Caucus for several years. Now pressure is mounting on the electoral organization, as their close associates are being subjected to a nationally publicized audit.
For the average voter, discussing where municipal politicians get their funding usually triggers little more than a shrug. However, the unflattering media coverage about the money and organization behind the folks running Vancouver City Hall has the potential to resonate with the public, something that Vision operatives understand.
Last week we linked to a video rant about Vancouver's mayor by Sun TV personality Ezra Levant, who dubbed Gregor Robertson as The Manchurian Mayor. Levant's passionate conservative positions on subjects are well known, but it's when he seizes on the subject of charity abuse he's most convincing and compelling to watch. This week he devoted approximately twenty minutes of his program to explain how he sees Tides Canada gaming the system, going as far as calling Tides' president Ross McMillan a liar, and implicating Vancouver-based web zine The Tyee in a large money laundering scam. Watch the clip here.
Ross McMillan states in his CBC interview that authorities should look at their grant recipients rather than Tides Canada, whom he claims is fully in compliance with our country's Charities Act. It echoes comments coming out of the office of the Vancouver mayor:
“Ms. Krause’s questions about companies that have made political donations to Vision Vancouver should be directed to those companies themselves . . . All of the donors referenced by Ms. Krause are already disclosed in Vision Vancouver’s reports.”
Shirking responsibility for who donates to your organization might be a more plausible tactic, if it weren't for the fact that the people who donated to Vision Vancouver actually work in Gregor Robertson's office. Chief of Staff Mike Magee runs a small consulting business on the side called Convergence Communications. We originally wrote about Convergence's donations at the start of our Know Your Donor series back in March 2009.
In that 2007 disclosure statement was a significant donation by Convergence Communications Inc., a consultancy owned and operated by Michael Magee. The total donations given by Magee's company were $27,783.95. Of those donations $15,000 were given within 30 days, and $10,000 was given in the form of two payments (on September 30, 2006), according to Vision's sworn statement.
During a period before 2008 Magee served as President on Vision Vancouver's Board of Directors. He is now Chief of Staff to Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Prior to the 2007 disclosure, Magee's company paid $1200.93 toward the 2005 election campaign according to the party's 2005 record. The $28K donation from 2007 was used to help pay off Vision Vancouver's campaign debt of $170,000 from their 2005 campaign.
During the 2008 campaign Convergence gave just one payment of $10,000 on November 11th, just one week before Election Day.
Magee's $38,984.88 donation to his own political organization is over and above the $20,642 he also gave to Gregor Robertson while he was an MLA during roughly the same time period. Robertson did not become leader of Vision Vancouver until June 2008.
Sixty thousand dollars worth of political donations puts Convergence Communications in the category of multi-million dollar profitable enterprises such as Rennie Marketing or Concord Pacific, not a small consultancy. Convergence Communications worked as "special advisers" to Tides Canada.
Over at the Globe and Mail, columnist Gary Mason began to weigh in to this topic with his own "fair questions" about money possibly moving between a US-funded charity and Vision Vancouver. He discusses the work of blogger Vivian Krause:
On her Fair Questions blog, Ms. Krause has drawn a potential link between Tides Canada and Vision Vancouver, the civic party led by Mayor Gregor Robertson. Mr. Robertson is a former director of Tides Canada. His chief of staff, Mike Magee, was a senior adviser to the organization at one time. Most notably, one of the mayor’s most important donors and key advisers, Joel Solomon, is vice-chair of the organization.
Ms. Krause has shown more than $60-million (U.S.) flowing from U.S. foundations to Tides Canada. She has also revealed $8.7-million going from the Endswell Foundation to Tides Canada, which in turn has distributed funds to a labyrinth of investment companies and public-relations firms that have made significant political contributions to Vision Vancouver.
It takes the mind of a forensic accountant to follow the money trail, in some cases. Some of the information Ms. Krause has uncovered is perplexing and raises natural questions. When Vision Vancouver came to power in 2008, for instance, its biggest campaign donors were Renewal Partners – a small investment firm the president of which is Mr. Solomon – and Strategic Communications, a public relations firm also associated with Renewal.
U.S. tax returns indicate Endswell paid $2.3-million toward salaries at Renewal over a five-year period. Endswell has also indicated it contributed an unspecified amount of money to Strategic Communications.
It is Ms. Krause’s contention that Endswell, while legally a separate entity, is part and parcel of Tides Canada. Mr. Solomon is certainly connected to both operations.
Now a further report has come out, also involving information and allegations by Vivian Krause, from The Province newspaper. Reporter Sam Cooper has written a story titled "Tides Canada being reviewed by feds for alleged improper links to Vancouver mayoral campaign":
Using U.S. tax records, Krause has pointed to about $60-million donated to Tides Canada from American foundations. She noted Tides Canada and another green charity with common directorship, Endswell Foundation, contributed funds to a group of five public relations and investment companies. Using civic election records, Krause showed these companies — Interdependent Investments Ltd, Renewal Partners, Strategic Communications, Convergence Communications and Communicopia — were top funders for Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2008.
Krause suspects the CRA is questioning whether the five companies were used to indirectly pass money from charities to Vision Vancouver.
“I think Tides Canada are skirting the spirit of the law that charities should not contribute to political parties, within the income tax act,” Krause alleged.
Cumulatively, it's a pretty intense week of negative media coverage for an organization that has flown under the radar since their electoral victory in November. Of course, Vision supporters will label the increased media scrutinty and the allegations by Krause as a coordinated political attack. However, in order to substantiate these claims they need proof, like the kind Krause's own investigations are now providing Revenue Canada auditors.
– post by Mike