From the outset, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were different.
Well-known TV journalists, they stood out in the group of 18 new senators – many of whom were former party fundraisers, politicians or failed candidates – appointed en masse by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.
Rather than a soft-landing near retirement, the Senate was a second life for Ms. Wallin and Mr. Duffy. And both quickly emerged as stalwarts on the campaign trail and the fundraising circuit, staunch partisan voices who commanded attention. They frequently travelled to party-related events, bringing clout, big-name recognition and charm in a way others could not. Conservative associations across the country advertised gala events with Ms. Wallin and “Old Duff” as headliners. They were stars.
Now, both are at the centre of a growing controversy over expenses in the Red Chamber. Ms. Wallin’s travel claims are under review, while Mr. Duffy’s repayment of tens of thousands of dollars in housing expenses is under renewed scrutiny after it was revealed the Prime Minister’s top aide wrote Mr. Duffy a cheque for more than $90,000.
Through interviews with members of riding associations, MPs and senators, and a review of Elections Canada returns and other records, a picture emerges of two former on-air hosts who became top voices for the party and the Prime Minister.
“We won the  election, and I’m sure Mike [Duffy] was very instrumental in that,” fellow Conservative senator and friend Don Plett says. “… He was a huge asset to us.”
But questions emerged about both senators’ expenses after the election. The Globe and Mail found seven instances in which Mr. Duffy appears to have billed per diems to the Senate on days when he was campaigning for Conservative candidates. Mr. Duffy’s audit, which initially focused on whether he was entitled to a housing allowance for his home in Ottawa, was returned to a Senate committee for further review after questions about his campaign expenses were raised in the media.
Ms. Wallin, meanwhile, had commitments outside the Senate and, according to a source familiar with her ongoing audit, frequently switched flights or booked them at the last minute, driving up costs. Her audit is focused on travel expenses. It was limited at first to a recent 18-month period, but members of the Senate committee asked auditors to cover an additional year of her time as a Senator after hearing a progress report last month.
ON THE HUSTINGS
The 2011 federal election allowed both senators to lend their profiles to local Conservatives. Ms. Wallin campaigned in her home province of Saskatchewan and made at least one trip to Simcoe-Grey, a riding north of Toronto where Conservative Kellie Leitch faced embattled former Tory Helena Guergis. Ms. Leitch declined an invitation to an all-candidates’ forum so she could campaign with Ms. Wallin, according to local newspaper reports.
Mr. Duffy – who had built a reputation as an active public speaker and Conservative Party fundraiser – campaigned with 17 Conservative candidates during the writ period, including Mr. Harper, according to returns filed with Elections Canada. He hit ridings on the east coast, and spent time in Toronto and the Northwest Territories.
But some of Mr. Duffy’s stops are being questioned since it was revealed that he appears to have claimed per diems for Senate business on days he was on the hustings. The allegation that he may have been “double dipping” – billing both the campaigns and the Senate for the trips – prompted the Senate to send his audit back to the committee that handled it for further review.
Those days include April 5 to 7, when Elections Canada records show he was with the Prime Minister in Toronto during the campaign but also claimed to be on Senate business; April 8, when he joined a campaign in the Northwest Territories and claimed to be on Senate business; April 21, when Elections Canada records show he campaigned in Nova Scotia but the audit says he claimed a per diem in Ottawa; and April 27 and 28, when he visited eight campaigns in Toronto just before the vote, with the audit showing he claimed those days as Senate business.