Broadcast lobby group rakes in millions, discloses little by Brian Lilley
Oct 13, 2010
OTTAWA - They raised $2.25 million dollars last year to “to defend and enhance the quality and quantity” of Canadian television, but the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting reveals very little of what they do with that money.
Friends was founded in 1985 to lobby against cuts to CBC programming but has morphed into a watchdog group that portrays itself as the defender of Canadian broadcasting and Canadian values. It’s latest fundraising campaign is directed against Sun TV News, the all-news channel being set up by Quebecor.
In an e-mail appeal to supporters, Friends spokesman Ian Morrison pleads, “... make an investment right now so that we can oppose the powerful forces that wish to make us fearful, frail and divided.” The e-mail claims that the group is “working hard to protect the public interest” and that they need to expand their reach ahead of CRTC review of the Sun TV application.
Despite what appears to be lobbying of the CRTC and minister of heritage on this and other issues, neither Friends of Canadian Broadcasting nor Ian Morrison are registered lobbyists.
According to the registrars office even groups involved in grassroots lobbying need to register their activities.
“If you are not a registered lobbyist, and you are paid and involved in a grassroots lobbying campaign, it is necessary to register,” reads the website of the office of the commissioner of lobbying.
Friends disputes the idea that they are required to register.
“We don’t meet the requirements,” an official not authorized to speak told QMI. The group reads the Lobbying Act to say that they only need to register if one of their staff spends 20% of their time lobbying, but according to experts the law can be trickier than that.
Duff Conacher, with the lobbying watchdog group Democracy Watch, told QMI Agency that groups like Friends of Canadian Broadcasting that are in the public eye and trying to influence public policy should be registered.
“The commissioner of lobbying is not doing random audits on who is contacting government and should be doing that to make sure people who are contacting government are registered,” Conacher said.
As for the people who gave more than $2 million in donations to Friends, they may never know where it ends up. Since Friends is not a registered charity but simply a not-for-profit, they are not required to comply with the same Canada Revenue Agency guidelines as charities.
QMI Agency asked Friends for more information on what they do and how they spend their millions in donations. An official said the group does not publish an annual report and directed QMI Agency to the audited financial statements posted on their website.
QMI Agency attempted to contact Friends spokesman Ian Morrison by telephone and e-mail regarding its lobbying position and its financial statements. Specific questions included whether the $78,750 listed as a “management fee” in the financial statements was his salary for what is described as a part-time job. Those questions were not answered.