US political strategy firm used widely by Tory MPs, but not always cited in Elections Canada reports

Published in the Vancouver Observer | April 16, 2012 | Circulation: 150,000 unique monthly visitors

Four of the 14 Conservative MPs who hired US political strategists in the 2011 election do not list the voter contact firm on their Elections Canada expense reports, the Vancouver Observer has learned.

Last week, the Republican-tied company admitted to the Vancouver Observer that its top American staff campaigned directly in several Ontario ridings last year, knocking on doors and phoning constituents, seemingly in violation of election laws. While 10 different Tory candidates reported using the firm, its four remaining clients did not identify the expense.

Columbus, Ohio-based Front Porch Strategies boasts extensive links to the U.S. Republican Party, with principal partners having worked for over a decade on campaigns in both Canada and the States—including that of former President George W. Bush.

“Our passion is helping Republican candidates, elected officials, and conservative causes win by personally connecting them with voters and constituents,” reads the company’s website.

Front Porch Strategies’ Canadian campaigns include Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ont., which is currently under investigation by Elections Canada following complaints of misleading phone calls redirecting voters to false polling stations. Conservative candidate Jay Aspin won by only 18 votes (the only other voter contact firm hired there, according to expense reports, was Alberta Blue Strategies).

The firm – which offers teleforum and robocalling services – came to prominence last month when media revealed that 14 Tory campaigns used U.S.-based Front Porch Strategies.

The company boasts on its website that all of their Canadian campaigns were successful, but told the Vancouver Observer that it only offered teleforums, not robocalling. Until now, only a few of the ridings were publicly known.

The Vancouver Observer scoured Elections Canada databases and found 10 of those 14 ridings which paid the company during the 2011 election. In the other four ridings, however, Front Porch Strategies did not appear in candidate expense reports.

Here are the candidates known to have employed the firm, followed by the date and amount spent:

1. Dean Allison (Niagara West-Glanbrook, Ont.) – Paid Front Porch Strategies $5,000 over two payments, on April 21 and 28, 2011.

2. Jay Aspin (Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ont.) – Paid $2,300 on May 16, 2011.

3. Patrick Brown (Barrie, Ont.) – Paid $1,700 on May 2, 2011.

4. Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, Ont.) – Paid $5,400 over two payments, April 7 and 21, 2011.

5. Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, Ont.) – Paid $947.90 on April 21, 2011.

6. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke) – Paid $5,138.28 over three payments, on May 26, 2011.

7. Parm Gill (Brampton-Springdale, Ont.) – Paid $1,500.21 on April 22, 2011.

8. Phil McColeman (Brant, Ont.) – Paid $2,255.06 on April 28, 2011.

9. James Rajotte (Edmonton-Leduc, Alta.) – Paid $3,400 on April 21, 2011.

10. Kyle Seeback (Brampton West, Ont.) – Paid $545.30 on April 29, 2011.

An eleventh riding was revealed by iPolitics after Front Porch Strategies was acclaimed with a US award for a teleforum it conducted for a Greater Toronto Area campaign:

11. Mark Adler (York Centre, Ont.) – Source: iPolitics.

Reached earlier by phone, the company’s Canadian liaison, Jim Ross, said he could not comment further about the missing four Front Porch ridings.

However, it is considered standard industry practice for contractors to protect their client lists, according to a source familiar with election campaigns.

As for why four election candidates evidently did not provide Front Porch Strategies receipts in their Elections Canada expense reports, the source suggested that it is normal for Electoral District Associations (EDA) – from all parties – to make expenditures, for instance before the election writ drops.

Elections Canada said that EDAs must report election-related expenses and transfers in their year-end reports, which are forthcoming in May.

Mystery shrouds the election campaign of Rick Norlock (Northumberland, Ont.), which the Toronto Star reported hired Front Porch Strategies, but the MP later denied he used the firm. Neither Adler nor Norlock reported Front Porch Strategies on their expense reports.

During the 2011 elections, Front Porch Strategies’ CEO Matthew Parker and director PJ Wenzel – both American citizens – knocked on doors and made calls for Dykstra and Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino, although Ross said they merely volunteered for Fantino in unsuccessful hopes of winning a contract.

Under the Canada Elections Act, it is illegal for non-residents to campaign for candidates.

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