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Elections BC issues more fines for anonymous third-party campaign ads

Elections BC received a complaint on Sept. 6 about the Cowichan Works mailing and indicated the next day that Cowichan Works was required to register as a third party.

Elections BC has fined a Duncan organization $750 for not registering as a third-party before last fall’s local government elections.

A Jan. 24 enforcement notice to Cowichan Works chair Bryan Danilyw and director Patrick Hrushowy said the group spent almost $3,500 to print and distribute 15,000 postcards mailed at the end of last August. The cards did not name either real estate agent Danilyw or Hrushowy, a veteran lobbyist.

“The cards were branded as coming from Cowichan Works, included the organization’s website address, an email address and indicated ‘Local politicians are out of touch, putting Cowichan in crisis’,” said the enforcement notice from investigator Adam Barnes.

Elections BC had dismissed an Aug. 5 complaint that Cowichan Works was conducting election advertising without being registered, because it did not meet the legal definition of sponsored advertising. Based on its website, however, Elections BC suggested in an Aug. 8 email that Cowichan Works may need to register as a third-party because the pre-campaign period opened July 18.

Danilyw replied Aug. 19 that Cowichan Works was “not positioning itself to be a third party sponsor for any candidates,” but instead encouraging residents to understand the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

Elections BC received a complaint on Sept. 6 about the Cowichan Works mailing and indicated the next day that Cowichan Works was required to register as a third party. The next week, Elections BC requested copies of invoices and the original ads.

“While the advertisements did not specify which local politicians were ‘out of touch’, they were clearly opposed to the existing council members in the region, and they were sponsored in that Cowichan Works paid to print and distribute the ads,” Barnes wrote. “Cowichan Works distributed the cards during the pre-campaign period, and was not a registered third party advertiser prior to distribution as required by [the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act].”

Cowichan Works finally registered on Dec. 22 — more than two months after the election — at the request of Elections BC. If that had not occurred, Barnes would have recommended an adjudicator impose a fine between $1,000 and $3,000.

The $750 fine against Cowichan Works is the biggest since October, when Elections BC announced two $500 fines against Pacific Prosperity Foundation, which does business as the Pacific Prosperity Network. The Chip Wilson-supported dark money political action committee was cited for unregistered third-party advertising on Facebook last August against then-Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the NDP candidate in the Surrey South provincial by-election.

Also Wednesday, Elections BC fined Keith Goforth $300 for placing anonymous flyers on cars outside the Oct. 4 Creston candidate forum.

After a complaint, Goforth told Elections BC he spent $72.75 and distributed 80 of the 300 flyers which promoted 10 candidates for regional district and town council.

Barnes decided on the $300 fine because the potential reach of the 80 flyers was insignificant and Goforth agreed to register as a third-party sponsor during the investigation.