Martyn Brown: Clerical errors, my ass; but what to do?

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      Now how did that happen?! How did your money get in my pocket? And how did my hands get in your wallet?

      Er, must have been a “clerical error”.

      As in “Usually minor, inadvertent negligence in computing a figure, or recording or copying a fact or statement. Also called clerical mistake.” According to the Online Business Dictionary.

      A few thousand here, a few more hundred thousand there, from charities that were not legally allowed to give to political parties and from corporate donors “inadvertently” masked or recorded as individuals.

      Sure, it’s against the law. I mean, technically speaking.

      But what do you expect me to do about it? Ask every damn donor who they really are and act with some diligence to assure they are telling the truth?

      Yes, I know. The law also requires me to do that. Again, if you want to be technical about it.

      And I’m sure there will be some people who might be suspicious that when “technical errors” are made, year after year, sometimes by the same individuals—oops, “entities”—it might look a little fishy. Downright deceptive even. OK, some might say “corrupt”. But not in a Quebec sense of that word.

      Anyway, I’m sure the RCMP will figure it all out. No doubt the special prosecutor who is now advising them will soon enough see it was all a colossally innocent, institutionalized practice, which wasn’t as it appears to most thinking and horribly cynical human beings.

      For God’s sake, just because some auditor general also sees something fishy in Denmark with spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on political ads on the eve of an election doesn’t mean it’s not also totally above board.

      Yes, yes. So I’m also required by law to pay back those gifts I accepted with a nod and a wink from who-knows-who.

      Did it. Or at least some of it. Cuz, you know, I wanted to do what’s right and legal. And also not have to pay a whopping fine, or maybe even go to jail. Nuh-uh. Not going to happen.

      Regardless, it’s all copacetic now, that’s for sure.

      Unless it isn’t. Again, the cops will get to the bottom of it with the SP’s sage advice—maybe even before the next election. That’s right, the one after this one.

      You like that, calling him the SP from now on? Anything to shorten the news cycle and contribute to transparency, as we like to think of it.

      In the meantime, that’s all I’m going to say about the matter. Because it’s before the courts. Sorry, not the courts, the fuzz. Same diff to me, politically. It’s water under the bridge that will flow beyond the realm of public inspection for many months to come, years more likely.

      To which you might respond:

      Not good enough! Clerical errors, my ass!

      It’s a bloody outrage that I sure as hell don’t accept should be neatly removed from proper public inspection! Least of all in the name of justice! (Because I tend to use a lot of exclamation marks when I’m really agitated.)

      It has all the hallmarks of that other “f” word that I’m not supposed to use. Least not in front of the children. Think I learned that from watching that boring Hansard channel.

      I’m pissed, if you can’t tell. And I sure as hell expect you to do the right thing. Now, damn it, not after you spend your clerically errored money to buy my vote. (Which, by the way, I just might give you anyway, because, well heck, I can be a sucker that way.)

      I expect you to do this, right away.

      Write to each and every one of those people and companies that gave you money, dating back to 2005, if possible. Or at minimum, to five years ago—the minimum period for which you are required to retain all of your receipts and other records for those donations.

      Do it today, not after I maybe vote for you.

      Apprise all of those donors of the so-called “clerical errors” that they may have made, by familiarizing them all with the laws that are supposed to bind them and you, about which you were apparently either blissfully unaware or “clerically” challenged.

      Urge anyone who sees a contradiction between their mode or act of giving to fess up, ASAP.

      Direct them to immediately bring their innocent illegal, potentially illegal, or even criminal acts to the attention of Elections B.C., RCMP, and also your party.

      You know, so that you can do what you are required to do today by law: namely, to give that money back. To them or to the government, as the case may be; and also, to report every single one of those “regrettable mistakes” to Elections B.C.

      That’s right. The same Elections B.C. that has an obligation to tell me and all voters who really gave you that money in question that has somehow tumbled into your pocket without anyone noticing it really wasn’t them who put it there. Again, technically speaking.

      Every one of those innocent-unless-or-until-proven-guilty technically erroneous givers should also know this, in no uncertain terms: if they somehow inadvertently received income-tax receipts for their technically illegal donations, they have to give those back to you—and also tell the cops. It doesn’t matter that they might have anticipated those receipts issued for donations made in their names.

      They should know, in black and white, in a letter from you, that the Canada Revenue Agency might also have to something to say about their innocent errors, depending on how they used or did not use those income-tax receipts.

      They could be in a spot of trouble, if they claimed the political contribution tax credits that they may have wrongly assumed they could claim, because they were issued those tax receipts for donations they wrongly thought they were entitled to make in their names, on their charities’ or companies’ behalf, with or without their credit cards.

      Got that?

      To which I might answer back, oh, come on!

      That’s a lot of unnecessary paperwork. I’m sure the RCMP, the special prosecutor, and Elections B.C. wouldn’t want me to go that far!

      Wouldn’t want to interfere with any investigation, dontcha know? Especially since I might need that money to buy more election ads, even more so after the writ drops, in less than two weeks.

      It’s tough enough I won’t be able to spend any more tax money on political advertising after that point. I mean, that’s why I dumped that stupid policy that the prior adminstration had put in place back in 2009, that prevented it and future governments from using any tax money for any nonessential government advertising for four months prior to each election.

      What was it thinking? Stu-pid! Anyway, that was ridiculous! (You see, I like exclamation marks too!)

      Also, no one really cares about this “inside baseball” stuff.

      That is, no one does beyond you and those other holier-than-thou politicos, who yap ad nauseam at others to obey those laws that no one pays much attention to other than them. By which I mean them and maybe those other Johnny-come-latelys: the media, RCMP, Elections B.C., and those pencil-pushing taxmen (and women, I’m sure they have some women).

      Bottom line: I’m sick of this subject and you’re just sick to death of what all those conspiracy theorists suppose it might all one day point to. Hopefully when I’m back in the West Wing we can have this chat once again and you’ll see my point.

      Best to just move on to what really matters, like maybe talking about our prowess in accounting, money management, and ethical governance.

      To which this author responds: spare me!

      Just don’t spare them, or timely accountability, to the extent both are legally and politically demanded.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia. Contact Brown at