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Politics Kevin O’Leary to slash fundraiser ticket prices to pay off debt from Conservative-leadership bid

Kevin O’Leary plans to slash tickets prices to as low as $100 from $2,000 for future fundraisers as he struggles to repay more than half-a-million dollars in debt from his failed Conservative leadership bid.

Last month, the celebrity businessman only sold about a third of the available $2,000 tickets to his fundraiser at Casa Loma in Toronto, which featured his American co-stars from the TV show Shark Tank. Mr. O’Leary estimates the event raised $164,000, which means he only sold about 82 of the available 250 tickets.

In a bid to attract larger crowds at future events, Mr. O’Leary said tickets will start at $100 and rise to $300 for postevent wine and cheese receptions.

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“We can’t do $2,000. That’s just very hard to do,” Mr. O’Leary said in an interview on Tuesday from Los Angeles.

“This saga is going to roll for quite a while.”

Mr. O’Leary recently attempted to organize a fundraiser in Halifax, N.S., in June, moderated by seafood baron John Risley, who once co-hosted a TV show with Mr. O’Leary. But it was thwarted after the board of directors for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies [AIMS], a public-policy think tank, rejected Mr. O’Leary’s pitch to match the first $25,000 in ticket sales with donations to the non-profit organization.

Mr. Risley, the co–founder of Clearwater Seafoods Inc. who serves as chairman of AIMS, said the board decided the organization shouldn’t be associated with a political event.

“The concern with the board, which was a legitimate concern, [was] that doing a fundraiser where Kevin was going to be associated with us would brand us in a way that we didn’t want to be branded,” Mr. Risley told The Globe and Mail.

Mr. O’Leary, who is half-Lebanese and half-Irish, was also hoping to use funds from the Halifax fundraiser to settle a lawsuit with the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce in Nova Scotia. The group claims Mr. O’Leary owes the organization $25,100 for cancelling a keynote speech in May, 2017.

“Kevin was to pay his debts off to the Lebanese chamber, make us whole again and then we would have ceased the litigation,” said Norman Nahas, president of the chamber.

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Mr. O’Leary said he’ll try to find another way to settle with the chamber. “I can’t be in a state of conflict with my own heritage and do a fundraiser in Halifax,” he said. “I need the support of that community.”

Mr. O’Leary joined the Conservative leadership race in January, 2017, only to drop out three months later and throw his support behind Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who lost by a razor-thin margin to leader Andrew Scheer.

According to Elections Canada records, unpaid claims from Mr. O’Leary’s aborted campaign total $529,184, with nearly $200,000 coming from the candidate himself. Because of spending rules, he can’t repay the claims himself, but has promised to pay back smaller vendors first. He said he’ll have to do four or five more fundraisers.

“This journey of paying back this $529,000 is one of the most complex deals I have to work on in my portfolio now. It’s taking an extraordinary amount of time and people,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have written a second letter to Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté, asking him to investigate Mr. O’Leary over allegations that he used his company’s private resources and accepted foreign and corporate donations at the Casa Loma event.

According to Elections Canada, non-monetary contributions accepted outside of the contest period are not subject to controls in the Canada Elections Act and are not reported. Any money given or loans obtained specifically to pay for unregulated expenses outside of the contest period are not subject to controls on contributions and loans in the act.

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Mr. O’Leary said he’s followed all the rules. A spokeswoman for Mr. Côté said the office “cannot discuss this matter” because of confidentiality.

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