Within two days, the crowdsourcing bid to fund the legal defence of the former executive director of the B.C. Liberals has more than doubled to about $33,000 as she faces criminal charges related to past duties in Ontario.
As of Wednesday, Laura Miller's effort had reached one-third of a $100,000 goal from 61 contributors, up from $15,095 from 22 donors on Monday evening. Her FundRazr.com page was launched on Dec. 24.
The donations include an anonymous $10,000 contribution.
The former deputy chief of staff to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty has been charged, along with another former McGuinty aide, with breach of trust and mischief in relation to the deletion of e-mails tied to a $1.1-billion decision by the Ontario Liberals to cancel two gas-fired power plants.
Ms. Miller and her co-accused, former McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston, are to appear in an Ontario court on Jan. 27.
Ms. Miller became executive director of the B.C. Liberals after departing Ontario politics, but she has quit since the charges were laid. She has hired prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby, who practises in Toronto, for her defence.
Under the heading "Laura Miller Defence Fund" is a statement on the fundraising Web page that declares, "Laura is facing substantial costs as she works to defend herself and clear her name. Your donation will go 100 per cent towards her legal costs."
Recent donations include $1,000 from Ken Boessenkool, a former chief of staff to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, and $100 from Shirley Heafey, a former chairwoman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
Ms. Heafey added the note, "It takes a lot of courage and determination to defend oneself against powerful organizations. It also takes a lot of money to do it well so that the truth emerges. Go for it."
Warren Kinsella, a political pundit who, as a backroom veteran, worked on the campaigns of former prime minister Jean Chrétien and Mr. McGuinty, donated $200.
In an e-mail exchange, he said he is supporting Ms. Miller for various reasons, including the fact that she is a friend, and because political people of all stripes are too often seen as "guilty until proven innocent." He also said he is skeptical about the alleged deletion of e-mails in the case. "Strong words, but I feel strongly about this one," he wrote.
A senior Vancouver lawyer said fundraising for a legal defence through the Internet was a striking, though inevitable, development.
"It's not something I've ever seen before, but I do think it's a byproduct of the times in terms of the way people do business these days," Kevin Westell, chair of the Vancouver criminal-justice section of the Canadian Bar Association, said in an interview.
"On its face, it's kosher. Like any other citizen could, Ms. Miller is raising funds by a legitimate channel. From the perspective of the donors, like any legitimate citizen, they have a right to donate to a friend, colleague or stranger."
He said Ms. Miller's situation may be a milestone but noted that most Canadians would not want to publicize criminal charges they were facing. That said, he noted that Ms. Miller is so well known that a low profile was not an option after the charges were laid.
"This is a unique situation which lends itself to this particular burgeoning mechanism of raising funds," he said.
Mr. Westell said legal fees in criminal cases are daunting, with people routinely selling assets, taking out mortgages, borrowing from friends and relatives and, if eligible, turning to legal aid. "Legal fees in North America are out of control. Most criminal lawyers I know couldn't afford their own fees," he said.
The issue, he said, isn't so much that people are being overcharged, but that a proper defence is labour-intensive. He added that most lawyers don't expect a lump-sum payment, but rather payments by instalments over time.