British Columbia’s New Democrats used almost $460,000 of publicly funded constituency money to conduct party activities and pay off caucus expenses during a five-year period that ended Dec. 31, 2011, says a leaked document.
The document is a briefing note prepared for the government’s all-party Legislative Management Committee, and describes the operations of the NDP Members Constituency Office Centralized Fund.
The briefing note is connected to leaked portions of a draft report from Auditor-General John Doyle that stated that by March 2009, the NDP amassed $260,000 from monthly constituency office payments and most of the money was used to fund partisan activities.
The briefing note details the concerns of the Auditor-General about how the fund was managed and documented and whether the fund should be permitted to carry a surplus at the end of each year.
“From 2006 up to December 31, 2011, the fund has made total expenditures of $459,790 and currently has an unexpended balance of $145,733,” said the briefing note.
The note also stated the majority of the fund was used to pay Gabriel Yiu, a two-time former NDP candidate who provides multicultural outreach services for the NDP caucus.
“Currently, the majority of spending from the fund is for the contracted services of Gabriel Yiu,” said the note. “The legislative Assembly Comptroller’s office does not have a copy of this contract, so the nature of the services Mr. Yiu provides are not known.”
NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson said Monday most of the money was used to receive political advice from people, including Yiu, a civil servant whom the Liberals were suggesting last week was a hired NDP gun in multicultural communities.
The Liberals said Yiu was paid $327,000, which the NDP did not deny.
Simpson, who said last week Yiu took unpaid leaves of absence to run as an NDP candidate and never offered advice to the party, said the same applies to the centralized fund.
“Not one dime went to the party,” he said. “No advice was given to the party in any way, shape or form. It was all applied to the caucus and caucus members.”
Last week, Simpson openly discussed Yiu’s services to the NDP caucus.
“Gabriel provided no information to the NDP, the party,” he said. “He provided support to the caucus. He provided support to caucus members. He provided advice to members who have large Chinese constituencies.”
Simpson said Yiu provided commentary in the media and “he did provide advice on how we best encourage the cultural activities in the Chinese community.”
Simpson said Yiu had a contract that was “open for everybody to see.”
Doyle’s draft documents said the NDP’s centralized fund indicated that money in the account was being used for partisan purposes.
“Our review of supporting documentation underlying expenditure amounts charged to this account indicates that funds accruing to this account were being used for partisan purposes and not for goods or services consistent with the original purpose of the constituency office,” said the draft audit for the year ended March 31, 2010.
The audit stated the NDP created a liability account it called the “NDP Members Constituency Office Centralized Fund” that dated back to November 2005. The fund was created following a request of the NDP caucus and was authorized by all NDP members at that time.
“The stated purpose of the fund was to ‘collectively and efficiently respond to common constituency needs,’ ” said the documents. “We note as well that draw-downs from this account by legislative assembly staff are done at the specific request and instruction of the NDP caucus.”
The audit documents said the NDP also used some of these funds to balance their caucus expenses.
“Similarly, at the end of fiscal 2009, NDP caucus contractor expenses of approximately $45,000 were reclassified to this same payable account,” said the audit documents.
“This reclassification meant that NDP caucus expenses were effectively paid out of NDP MLA constituency office funds. We note as well that without this entry, NDP caucus expenses would have been over budget in 2009.”
Simpson acknowledged the existence of the fund.
He said the caucus members voted to approve making $200 monthly contributions from their constituency funds to create a pool of money for events, activities and programs primarily in Asian communities.
Simpson said the caucus made the legislative comptroller’s office aware of the fund.
“He [Doyle] raised an issue, and we’re happy to debate this one, about the use of the money for caucus and for caucus members,” said Simpson.
“Things we did, were they political, well, to the extent that caucuses are political.”
Simpson said they’ve stopped collecting money and the cash was returned to the constituency offices.
Former legislative comptroller general Dan Arbic was laid off last fall after an audit by Doyle concluded the legislature’s finances were in such a state of disorganization he couldn’t determine if bills were being paid.
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett, who raised questions about Yiu’s connections to the NDP last week during heated exchanges over Liberal aims to woo ethnic voters, called the NDP fund an unethical use of constituency dollars.
“For a party to claw back some of that money that is supposed to be used to service our constituency ... is an abuse of our obligations,” he said. “What it looks like is the NDP caucus were basically taking kickbacks from their constituency offices to generate this fund to use for partisan political purposes.”
A spokeswoman at Doyle’s office said the auditor general does not comment on draft documents or briefing notes.