Charest leadership campaign sees fake pledges

OTTAWA — Alarm bells are ringing in Conservative circles after bogus promises of financial support were made to Jean Charest’s leadership campaign.

The Charest campaign was made aware of the issue by party members on Wednesday after some started receiving thank you emails for pledging to donate to the campaign – which they never did.

“This is an obvious attempt to create chaos. Our campaign will not tolerate it,” campaign spokeswoman Michelle Coates Mather said in an email to The Star.

Mélanie Paradis, longtime conservative strategist recount on social media receiving an email suggesting she had pledged $120 to the campaign.

She said it made no sense; as a member of former leader Erin O’Toole’s inner circle, she remains neutral in this contest. She said that upon contacting the campaign, she learned that one of her old postcodes had been used on the pledge form, information she believed must have come from an old membership list.

Before Charest became a registered candidate and could accept donations, his campaign website offered people the option to “donate.”

Once he was able to accept donations, his campaign then began automatically contacting people who had pledged money to encourage them to donate, a process that began in recent days.

Coates Mather said that after receiving the complaints, the campaign investigated and determined that numerous pledge forms were found, all linked to an IP address originating from Ukraine.

The campaign has notified those affected of the error, as well as the leadership contest organizing committee, which is currently reviewing the matter.

If the false promises were made using information gleaned from old membership lists, it is unclear how these lists were obtained.

Paradis said while some may view the incident as a minor one, it should be taken more seriously than that.

“It is in fact an attempt to corrupt the process of electing our next leader,” she added. wrote on social networks.

Party membership lists are a valuable asset in leadership contests because they allow campaigns to contact all existing members to solicit their vote.

In this competition, applicants can access the current list of members, estimated to be around 170,000 people, as well as historical membership records dating back to 2019.

But they must first pay half of the $200,000 entry fee, the full $100,000 compliance deposit and submit 500 party member signatures in support of their candidacy.

The rules of the race also state that candidates must acknowledge in writing that the list is “confidential and the exclusive property of the Conservative Party of Canada”.

There are now 12 people trying to put together a leadership bid. They have until April 29 to qualify.

It was unclear late Wednesday which campaigns, if any, have actually received membership data so far.

Charest’s campaign said that although they have reached the threshold, the party is still validating the signatures and they do not have the lists.

The Conservative Party did not return a request for comment.

In the 2017 leadership contest, candidate Brad Trost found himself in hot water after he was accused of leaking the list he received to the National Firearms Association.

He was later cleared of the allegation after the party found no definitive evidence that it was his list that ended up leaked.

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