Saturday, December 17, 2011

Campaign Research Con cats are out of the bag

[Tuesday update below]

Campaign Research client and House Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled it "reprehensible" while Campaign Research client and Con House Leader Peter Van Loan defended it as "vital free speech", but Campaign Research cofounder Nick Kouvalis put it best when he described his firm's now infamous phone calls to Lib MP Irwin Cotler's constituents :  
“We’re in the business of getting Conservatives elected and ending Liberal careers. We’re good at it.”
Since 2003. For 39 Conservative candidates in the last federal election alone.

Kouvalis, who managed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's successful campaign, was also election day chair for Kitchener-Waterloo Con MP Peter Braid.

Other Campaign Research staff currently include the other co-founder Richard Ciano*** now president of the Ontario Con Party, and Aaron Lee-Wudrick, campaign manager for Con MP Peter Braid. 

In 2009, Ciano, Wudrick and Braid participated in a series of workshops hosted by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association and the Preston Manning's Manning Centre for Building Democracy, ** (see update below) where Ciano was Executive Director of Practical Politics til Feb 2010 . At one such training session in February 2009, Wudrick and  Ryan O'Connor, 9th VP of the Ontario Con Party, were taped instructing students to set up Con-friendly "shell organizations" and "front groups" :
"With the apparent support of representatives from both the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the Conservative Party of Canada, the OPCCA is attempting to covertly influence the political climate of Ontario's university campuses. 
Presenters and participants are caught on tape advocating for the creation of front groups for the Conservative Party to masquerade as non-partisan grassroots organizations, influencing the political discourse on campus, stacking student elections with Party members, and conspiring to defeat non-profit organizations because of political differences, all with the intention of hiding their affiliations to the Party in the process."
(37:10) Aaron Lee-Wudrick : I say we, because, even though [Ryan O'Connor] was the forced neutral [as Student President] and me as the Tory president, it was all orchestrated obviously behind closed doors, and it actually worked out well because it looked like different groups of stakeholders, like I'm the outsider coming in, and you guys were just the responsible student government and we had other members of council, a guy he appointed to council, he got speaking rights but he wasn't an elected member, but just as another voice at the table, it made it look like there were all kinds of different corners where in fact we were all on the same team. 
(42:14) Aaron Lee-Wudrick : Campus Radicals for Action on Zimbabwe Yes, or something like that, they were a great shell group. Feel free to use Campus Coalition for Liberty, that's ours so we have a logo and everything. 
(50:05) Ryan O'Connor : When Aaron was doing the petition campaign, which "I knew nothing about;" I was printing them in my frickin office in student government, of course I knew about it, of course we were behind it, I couldn't take a public position on that issue because although I wasn't running for reelection, this was three months before the end of my mandate ... if we had made them an issue, no Tory would ever get elected to student government again.  
Ryan O'Connor : Sometimes you can't attach the party's name to something. You just can't. If it's a really controversial issue on campus or something that might show up in the newspaper, you want to be careful. You just have your shell organization and have the Campus Coalition for Liberty and two other Tory front groups which are front organizations, all of those groups might actually qualify for funding too. 
Aaron Lee-Wudrick : Don't think that the Party doesn't like that, because they do. They're things that will help the Party, but it looks like it's an organically-grown organization and it just stimulated from the grassroots spontaneously. They love that stuff. And they don't have to bear the burden of having any of it attached to their name."
You know, like pretending to be spontaneous grassroots fake twitterer Karen Philby or making anonymous calls to talk radio. (h/t Montreal Simon

Plus ça changeplus c'est la fucking même chose, eh?

Bonus : Out here in BC, Campaign Research was "the single largest beneficiary of the HST contracts, pulling down $167,000 of the $250,000 total budget for "conducting telephone town hall meetings" related to the implementation of the controversial tax change". 

They were hired on by BC rightwinger Suzanne Anton in her unsuccessful Vancouver mayoralty bid, and also set up a fake website mocking Christy Clark for signing up a cat as part of her party membership drive in their campaign work for her rival George Abbott :
In the source code, the author of the website was identified as Bo Chen, who works for Toronto-based Campaign Research
The Campaign Research Con cats are definitely out of the bag.
Tuesday Dec. 20 Update : Phone calls to presumed Liberal voters in Con MP Peter Braid's riding advising them of false polling station location changes in the days days before the May 2 federal election have been traced to a "Conservative Party of Canada voicemail".
“I used them for a very specific and limited purpose and that was phone calling to constituents and voter identification,” said Braid.  “Nick [Kouvalis] has a particular expertise in this and that’s why it was helpful to have him involved.”
Braid said he’d consider using Campaign Research again, citing its excellent record with live phone calls. He added “It doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with everything they do.”
Presumably another example of Jason Kenney's "vital free speech" argument.
Despite evidence of just how entwined the history between the Cons and Campaign Research has become, expect imminent use of distancing weasel words like "over-zealous" and "party volunteer" from the Cons any moment now.
h/t The Record.
Mar 6, 2012 8am Update : Correction at **
I've deleted "Manning Centre for Building Democracy" from the post. As noted by a commenter here, MCBD did not host the OPCCA strategy meeting held by Con MP Peter Braid, his campaign manager Aaron Wudrick, and his constituency assistant Eric Merkley, as apparently mistakenly reported in UofT Free Press.
Although both the OPCCA seesions and MCBD sessions shared some participants, like Richard Ciano - Campaign Research Inc CEO, Ontario CPC president, and Manning Centre Executive Director of Practical Politics - the Manning Centre for Democracy Networking Conference was held in Ottawa a week later.
*** Link Defunct. Richard Ciano's page appears to have been expunged from the Campaign research website.


Beijing York said...

Excellent work, Alison!

I didn't see any Winnipeg ridings on that list of Campaign Research clients so I guess they are not "directly" connected to those US "misinformation" calls. (But honestly, given their love of shell games, they probably are behind them.)

Anonymous said...

And yet if the NDP or Liberals had a bunch of shell organizations they hid behind to do dirty deeds or spend beyond the allowed elections limits, the Cons would be screaming bloody murder.

Sometimes I wonder how much damage this "each corporation is its own entirely separate person" idea is really doing to modern society. Responsibility, accountability, and transparency are in the toilet.

West End Bob said...

Nice (?!?) to see that Canadian political shenanigans no longer have to take a back seat to USian political shenanigans . . . .

double nickel said...

We're #2, we're #2!!

thwap said...

That Tuesday update makes me sick. Democracy isn't a game. You're supposed to appeal to the people, not cheat the process and bamboozle people.

Again I ask: Why should we endure a government that does not respect the process? What legitimacy does this pack of torturers and fraudsters have that we're supposed to respect?

Alison said...

Thwap : The most effective method of voter suppression is to turn people off politics altogether, so this dirty tricks info getting out still serves their purposes. Thought about this before posting it I can tell you.

AMS said...

Nice post.

I'd really suggest reading "Death of the Liberal Class" by Chris Hedges if anyone is thinking that this has not become prevalent.

Talk about an eye opener and a call to action.

On the other hand -- it should be easy for infiltrate such shell groups and expose them (so don't start thinking what is good for the goose is good for the gander).

Blog Archive