Canada Election 2011: Are Lawyers Counted as Election Expenses?

Lawyers and accountants volunteer during Canadian elections – are the fair value of their fees an election expense for the candidate ?

Sean Casey with lawyer M. Lynn Murray at Liberal HQ in Charlottetown (left)

The finances of candidates in a Canadian Federal Election are strictly regulated by Elections Canada.
When we saw this picture of $300 plus per hour lawyer Lynn Murray helping Liberal Candidate Sean Casey, it made us wonder if the commercial value of her services are being counted.
For that matter, there are probably more than a thousand lawyers across Canada working in the Election 2011. Are they billing the candidates or donating their time?
Candidates must account for the money spent and all donations they received, whether cash or Non-monetary contributions.
There are strict limits on how much money each candidate can spend in his or her riding.
This was the source of the recent Conservative scandal when the national party was laundering money through the riding associations for the last national campaign. 
“‘Voluminous’ amount of evidence that Conservative Party wilfully exceeded election expense limit, says Public Prosecution Service of Canada,” reported the Hill Times
Cash is easy to account for. In kind donations are goods and services are called Non-monetary contributions in the Election Handbook for Candidates
“A non-monetary contribution is the commercial value of a service, or of property or the use of property or money to the extent that they are provided without charge or at less than their commercial value.” Election Handbook for Candidates
Usually lawyers charge for their time. They charge for their time if they work on Sunday, or during the evenings. There was one lawyer in Charlottetown who got caught billing his client twice for the same Sunday.
To a lawyer, time is money and their stock in trade.
It doesn’t matter if the lawyer doesn’t charge the candidate. They Official Agent must account for the service as a donation and expense at “commercial value” which is defined as:
Commercial value is defined as the lowest amount charged at the time that a property or service was provided for the same kind and quantity of property or service, or for the same usage of property or money, by:
  • the person who provided it, if the person is in the business of providing that property or service, or
  • another person who provides that property or service on a commercial basis in the area where it was provided, if the person who provided the property or service is not in that business

When goods or services are provided without charge or for less than commercial value, and the goods or services are used directly to promote the candidate during an election period, the official agent must record the commercial value of the goods or services as an election expense of the candidate, as well as a contribution.
So again the question is – are the candidates for the election accounting for non-monetary contributions from professionals including lawyers?
We will contact the Chief Electoral Officer and the Official Agents for the various parties in the Charlottetown riding and report back to you.
This is not an academic question. Campaign fraud is illegal in Canada. During the 1980s. I was appointed Official Agent for the Cardigan riding and it was impressed upon me that cheating on campaign finances could result in my imprisonment and other penalties.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network 

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