Source : Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney helped a private satellite radio company that was seeking a favourable cabinet decision on its broadcast licence nearly a month before he registered as a lobbyist for the firm.
Mr. Mahoney, a close friend of Prime Minister Paul Martin's, says administrative mix-ups in the registration process frustrated attempts by his office to file a public declaration of his lobbying activities.
His admission comes amid new scrutiny of the enforcement of lobbying rules and allegations that former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall lobbied for private sector clients without registering. Industry Minister David Emerson last week conceded that there are "lobbyists who just are not paying more attention to the fundamental rules and ethics around dealing with government" and promised to give the official in charge of lobbyists more resources to police the registration.
Mr. Mahoney says he believed he was in compliance with the lobbyist law because he asked his assistant to file a public declaration with Industry Canada's Lobbyist Registration Branch on Sept. 7 -- the night he attended a cocktail party at the prime minister's residence along with several other supporters of Canadian Satellite Radio (CSR). He said he was wrongly informed that he was registered as of Sept. 8.
"As far as I knew, I was registered," Mr. Mahoney said. "I didn't realize we weren't registered until we got a call on the 4th (of October) asking why we weren't."
CSR is a client of Mr. Mahoney's law firm and was one of two companies granted licences by the CRTC to broadcast in the new digital satellite radio format. The CRTC decision was appealed to cabinet by broadcasters CHUM Ltd. and Astral Media, and other groups who were unhappy with the lower Canadian content requirements in the new licences.
The cabinet appeal was the subject of a vigorous lobbying campaign that kicked into high gear after the Liberal party caucus meeting in Regina in August, when MPs from Quebec expressed dissatisfaction with the licences given to CSR and another company, Sirius Canada. Both firms are affiliated with U.S. satellite radio broadcasters.
Two nights before a cabinet committee would decide on the appeal, Mr. Mahoney, CSR founder John Bitove and other supporters of the company attended the party at 24 Sussex for members of the Laurier Club -- donors who each gave $1,000 or more to the Liberals last year.
Former Ontario premier David Peterson, who is a friend of Mr. Bitove's, was also at the party, but he denies he was acting as a lobbyist.
"I have no financial relationship with the firm," Mr. Peterson said. "I'm not a lobbyist."
But Mr. Peterson said Mr. Mahoney was one of "a whole crew" of people helping CSR on the file, several of whom showed up at the prime minister's home that night.
"He was working for them. There were lots of people working on that issue, a bunch of them."
Cabinet later rejected the appeal, paving the way for CSR and Sirius to begin broadcasting in the new format. Mr. Mahoney's registration did not appear on Industry Canada's lobbyist registry until Oct. 4.
The registration process was complicated by the fact that Mr. Mahoney's account with the Lobbyist Registration Branch had lapsed because he hadn't registered there since 2003, Mr. Mahoney said.
There was further confusion over the registration website. (Mr. Mahoney e-mailed the Citizen a detailed timeline outlining attempts by his office to file his registration documents beginning Sept. 7.)
An Industry Canada spokeswoman said she could not comment on any problems Mr. Mahoney might have had registering.
Mr. Mahoney terminated his registration with CSR this week. He says he had first attempted to register only out of "an abundance of caution" and says he does not remember having any discussions with government officials at 24 Sussex or elsewhere about satellite radio.
"There were times in early September when I would run into people and people would be talking about it," he said.
"I don't think cocktail party discussions are 'registerable' activity but I'm not the sole authority on the Lobbyist Registration Act.
"In order to be cautious, I said let's (register)."
Mr. Mahoney says he never arranged any meetings with government officials or made submissions to government on satellite radio -- activities that would require registration under the act.
He noted that he had not been registered to lobby the federal government since 2003, before his first and unsuccessful run as the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre last year. The traditionally safe Liberal riding was won by NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
Because of his wife's health problems, Mr. Broadbent is not running again and Mr. Mahoney is considered the front-runner in the next election.
His long friendship with Mr. Martin could help him win a cabinet post, should the Liberals form another government.
Mr. Mahoney is also registered to lobby the provincial government on behalf of Iogen, an Ottawa company developing ethanol technology.
Although he says he doesn't do any federal lobbying work himself, as the head of the public policy unit at the law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, Mr. Mahoney works with lobbyists who are registered to lobby for CSR and other private interests.
Cyrus Reporter, the firm's lead lobbyist on the CSR file, is one of several well-connected Liberals who work for CSR and Sirius.
They include: Mr. Martin's longtime strategist, John Duffy; Mark Resnick, a former Martin policy adviser; and Kevin Shea, the temporary head of Sirius Canada and a past chairman of the Liberals' election ad agency, Red Leaf Communications.
Mr. Mahoney says he regretted that his involvement with CSR has been a "distraction" to his coming electoral run but he defended his decision to continue working in the public policy arena.
"This is my job. If I was the MP for Ottawa Centre, this would not be my job; I would have a different job," he said.
"But I do have to work. I don't think there's anything wrong with what I think is an honourable profession."
© Ottawa Citizen