Friday September 29th, 2023 - 03:49:53 AM

Chatham Daily News Compliance Audit Coverup
Austin Wright - August 3, 2007

This letter was submitted to the Chatham Daily News in response to several inaccurate and defamatory news articles. In keeping with their one-sided style, it was never published. As a result, the public never did learn the truth.

August 3, 2007

The Chatham Daily News
45 Fourth Street
Chatham, Ontario
N7M 5M6

Attn: Editor, Opinion Page


In response to your editorial of July 12, 2007, several opinion letters by Mary Lee, and other inaccurate reporting, please allow me to clear up the apparent misunderstandings preferred by this publication.

The suggestion that council may have been weak by complying with the request for an audit does not take into consideration the facts. Council didn't debate the individual allegations, which the Chatham Daily News has kept secret despite being documents of public record. The discussion was whether "reasonable grounds" exist for an audit, and based on the applications, council clearly agreed they do.

Nearly every issue I raised was supported by facts which are public knowledge. With the role of the Chatham Daily News in exposing the credit card fiasco fresh in mind, I found it surprising that Hope's campaign spending wasn't scrutinized by the media, even under the anonymity of an editorial. These allegations didn't just come out of the blue, and the Chatham Daily News was even tipped off in advance!

Hope waited until the last minute to file his campaign expenses on March 30th. I questioned them at the time, and the Chatham Daily News was curious enough to ask defeated mayor Diane Gagner what she thought before the issue disappeared from sight. I kept digging for answers despite receiving serious threats against my family and I, and the resulting request was filed within the prescribed time period 90 days later.

The editorial completely missed the point about “combined” spending limits. Nowhere does the law allow two candidates to combine spending as suggested in the editorial's arithmetic, whether it's close to the limit or only 10%. Under the same logic, an individual could have contributed $750 each to both Hope and Lee, knowing that it's all going to promote Hope anyway, thereby circumventing the cap which prevents individuals from donating more than $750 to a candidate in the first place.

Campaign contribution rules are legislated limits, not guidelines that somebody can talk their way out of like a speeding ticket. Either the law is broken or it isn't. A further aggravating factor is the allegation that Lee's endorsement of Hope was a premeditated strategy to defeat Gagner.

It's not hard to see where this can lead if somebody doesn't put their finger in the dike before things get out of hand. If such endorsement schemes are sanctioned, then we could well see more of this tactic in future elections, where candidates run in groups only to back out and combine resources to endorse the front-runner (or underdog).

Partly at issue in this case is whether a candidate may exceed the $750 contribution limit while promoting another candidate, and whether such an endorsement has to be claimed as campaign spending by the endorsed candidate. Not to mention the fact that you can't even put a price on all the free publicity such a high-profile endorsement generates.

Another pertinent point about third-party spending was a series of radio ads endorsing Hope which did not indicate how they were paid for. Hope's low campaign expenses suggest these ads were not paid by Hope, but were not included in his stated expenses even though his campaign benefited.

There was also print advertising alleged to have been placed at the last minute by Hope's campaign advisor, who also said to have placed a series of anonymous ads attacking other candidates at the same time. It's unclear whether this individual had Hope's authority to purchase the extra libellous advertising, or whether advertising endorsing Hope was billed to Hope's campaign or billed to an existing business account for tax-writeoff purposes. This raises additional questions which the Chatham Daily News is in a far better position to answer, but hasn't.

What role ought the media play to ensure that election advertising conforms to the law? I view a definite conflict of interest in this case. Editorial policy should not be influenced by advertisers, but we're seeing a slant here that suggests the bottom line has priority over the truth.

My "unsuccessful" placement in the recent election does not enter into the equation, save for the sensationalism of the comment. The suggestion of “sour grapes” is irrelevant and ironic considering the role of the Chatham Daily News in contributing to the election outcome. The description is defamatory and was included in media articles solely to enhance the sting of the $1.1 million lawsuit filed against my family and I in an attempt to ensure my silence.

I happen to be the only person willing or with enough spare time to bring this forward, perhaps at great personal cost. Of course it's a risk to my reputation and credibility, so the decision wasn't taken lightly. No doubt the usual critics will continue to discredit me while somehow discounting or minimizing serious allegations of election impropriety against the mayor. Slamming the messenger isn't going to change the reality that council was convinced that “reasonable grounds” exist to audit Hope.

It's going to be hard for the public to weigh in accurately, or vote in your unscientific “weekly poll” when details of the allegations have not been reported, notwithstanding the fact my application is a public record which may be inspected at the Clerk's office at any time. Perhaps others might then have some questions of their own after learning the actual evidence.

Let me be clear that at this point, these are allegations only, and both Lee and Hope are entitled to due process. This is nothing personal, it's politics - a consequence of running for office under the banner of accountability and integrity and delivering the opposite. Questions have already been raised by many in the community concerning the activities and influences of the mayor's office, so this is the chance to clear the air and remove any cloud of suspicion from our municipal government so that we can move forward with the critical issues facing our municipality.

The appointed auditor will have authority under the Public Inquiries Act. This gives access to relevant documents which were not available to me. The forthcoming audit is not the same thing as having an auditor file election expenses for a candidate. That kind of accountant cannot file information which isn't provided by the client.

If the compliance audit finds substance to one or more of the allegations, or uncovers additional problems, council will have to decide whether to commence a legal proceeding as prescribed by law. Sweeping this under the carpet would do nothing to restore faith in our leadership, so we must trust council to do the right thing. If problems are found, there is always the “acting in good faith” clause, but this should be a judge's decision, not council's.

In my opinion, we aren't looking for mere adding mistakes. If the auditor finds multiple inconsistencies, then the question becomes whether there was an intent to deceive, which is quite the opposite of acting in good faith. If even half the allegations are found true, then Hope is either grossly incompetent or willfully obstructive, in which case we should be going back to the polls. At the very least, I anticipate there will be some very good reasons discovered to revise Ontario's election laws to clear up any loopholes or grey areas, in the interest of democracy.

If these applications put electoral reform on the radar, resulting in changes across the province which level the playing field, then the process will be worth it.

Signed, Austin Wright

Bruce Corcoran's non-response prompted this private message:

August 3, 2007

The Chatham Daily News
45 Fourth Street
Chatham, Ontario
N7M 5M6

Attn: Bruce Corcoran, Managing Editor

Dear Mr. Corcoran:

On July 10th, 2007, my participation in a municipal matter gained the notice of your publication in a front-page column. It was again mentioned in the editorial of July 12th, 2007, in several subsequent opinion letters, and follow-up articles. Each time, reference was made to myself in terms which are negative and defamatory. The Chatham Daily News has continued to demonstrate a bias in its reporting which suggests an agenda exists to discredit me and cause damage to my reputation in the community.

Furthermore, while describing the issue in question, each article withheld pertinent information from the public which would have provided a better understanding of the facts. Namely, the Chatham Daily News failed to publish the details of a Compliance Audit request filed with municipal officials – a public record available for inspection by any person at the municipal Clerk's office.

Instead, an anonymous editorial was printed which questioned whether council made the wrong choice by allowing the audit, and supported this stance with faulty and misleading information. The misinformation was further compounded by placing an online poll on the Chatham Daily News web page which asked visitors to vote on a “yes or no” question without providing any of the details which Chatham-Kent Council was provided before their vote to have Mayor Hope's campaign finances audited.

In an attempt to mitigate the damage to my reputation and provide truthful and accurate details to the public, I authored an opinion letter and delivered it to the Chatham Daily News by e-mail. After waiting a week for confirmation and hearing nothing, a copy was forwarded to the regional Osprey office, where my concerns were again ignored.

Not only is this shoddy journalism (and poor “customer service” to boot), but it perpetuates allegations that the Chatham Daily News has been demonstrably shielding Mayor Hope from criticism in a biased manner which was never extended to previous mayors. It has been apparent that media coverage has been manufactured by the mayor's office (or the media) to create the illusion of industriousness, where clearly none seems to exist. Mayor Hope has received more “positive” news coverage and “photo-ops” since prior to his election victory than both previous mayors put together; critical opinion letters have been virtually censored out of existence, while not one concrete detail of accomplishment has been proven, even though his handlers have scrambled to make him appear competent.

Had this compliance audit been requested of former mayor Gagner, the Chatham Daily News would have pounced all over it, and probably would have taken the lead role in investigating and reporting the details. It's the role of the media to report the news, not to engage in the politics of king-making or demonstrating favourtism and obvious slant.

Refusing to release details of a public document, to wit, the application for a compliance audit of the campaign finances of Randy Hope and Mary Lee, further diminishes the integrity of the Chatham Daily News, and makes it impossible for the public to determine for themselves the exact nature of the complaints which led to council's resounding decision to proceed with the compliance audits based on the information contained in the applications.

To date, no communication has been received regarding my attempted letter to the editor, which leaves me rather mystified to the cause. I am aware that it is rather longer than most items considered for publication, but I would draw your attention to the numerous op-ed articles frequently published by Glen Burk and others as proof that my shorter letter has not exceeded some arbitrary word count.

Indeed, the frequency of the extensive compositions of certain writers, and the impressive timeliness at which some responses are published seems to indicate that a form of nepotism exists. Apparently, John Cryderman and Mary Lee (also mentioned in the editorial and having not one but TWO letters published recently in response) are in better favour with the News, since they seem to have faster unfettered access to the opinion page as well, based on the timing of past insertions. Unfortunately, evidence suggests a protocol preventing my opinions from being published has been adopted.

Don't forget that I've always been open and accessible by the media, and have contributed frequent news tips and photographs over the years without a penny of compensation. If I encounter news, I will continue to do so, notwithstanding the demonstrated bias against me. As editor, would you chose to refuse a good news photo based on some newfound prejudice against the photographer, or fail to follow a news tip? I can't understand how you perceive there to be any benefits to obstructing me when working together could be so much more beneficial..

I note your new “policy” printed recently, limiting opinion letters to six submissions per author each year (justification for rejecting my letter perhaps?). While I'm pleased that this will protect us from further diatribes by Messrs. Burk and Cryderman, it could not apply to me at this time since my current tally rests at only two inclusions of my last four letters submitted. My grammar is usually impeccable, and I refrain from libellous comments, though past experience does suggest that the Chatham Daily News has trouble grasping the concept of what constitutes a libel in the first place. What exactly is the problem with my letter?

At one time, a policy existed that limited media coverage provided to businesses and owners that did not advertise in the Chatham Daily News (don't forget I used to work in the newsroom). My business used to advertise frequently, and might have continued to do so if it hadn't been advertised anonymously that I was out of business when I wasn't, followed by the initiation of a new Chatham Daily News rule that I be denied the chance to purchase advertising. I have no doubt that I'm currently enjoying the consequences (retribution) of the resulting litigation.

I was already advised by a Daily News staff member that an edict had been issued from “up above” that nobody was to have anything to do with me due to a certain unrelated legal matter, so let's not risk exacerbating that any further by pretending that my statements don't meet some obscure criteria required for publication. If printing my letter would reveal inconvenient details that don't support your stated editorial goals, then perhaps you people should get out of the business of journalism. You should be on heightened alert to the dangers of misrepresenting me in published articles.

This is my final attempt to have a rebuttal, and have accurate information published which is in the public interest. Perhaps this will be sufficient to dilute my accusation of defamation. Should my undoctored article (as attached) not appear in print without delay, kindly advise the rationale behind your refusal to publish my material in writing, and state whether this is your final position in the matter.

Should the Chatham Daily News fail to provide the courtesy of a response, be advised that I am prepared to formally submit the issue to the Ontario Press Council for their consideration, and reserve my right to litigate the matter.

Regards, Austin Wright


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