Front Porch Strategies faces scrutiny in 14 Tory ridings after 2011 election admission

A US voter contact firm with strong Republican ties played down questions after admitting to the Vancouver Observer its top staff campaigned directly in several  Ontario ridings last year, seemingly in violation of election laws.

Columbus, Ohio-based Front Porch Strategies came to prominence last month after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary, MP Dean del Mastro, backtracked from suggestions the Liberals were to blame for misleading calls and hired American voter contact firms. Tories were left red-faced after media revealed the allegations were wrong - and they themselves had hired Front Porch Strategies.

 

The company boasts on its website that it was hired by 14 Conservative campaigns in Canada, all of which were successful. Until now, only a handful were publicly known.

The Vancouver Observer scoured Elections Canada databases and found only 10 of those 14 ridings which paid the company - the other four did not appear in candidate expense reports.

Reached earlier by phone, the company's Canadian liaison, Jim Ross, denied any connection to the so-called "robocall" scandal - in which Elections Canada revealed that 200 ridings reported misleading live and automatic calls redirecting non-Conservative voters to false voting stations, or impersonated opposition candidates. He insisted that Front Porch Strategies only conducted teleforums ("town halls"), even though they also offer robocalling services. But Ross said he could not comment further about the missing four Front Porch ridings.

However, the Vancouver Observer has learned that it is considered industry standard practice for contractors to guard their client lists, according to a source familiar with election campaigns. As for why four election candidates evidently did not provide Front Porch Strategies receipts in their Elections Canada expense reports, the source added that it is common for Electoral District Associations (EDA) - from all parties - to make campaign expenditures instead of candidates, which are not required to be reported in detail. For instance, an EDA would make payments prior to an election writ dropping. The database reveals many personal reimbursements on expense reports, which could also account for the missing four ridings.

The Vancouver Observer uncovered the 10 districts that paid the firm during the 2011 election. Followed by the date and amount spent, they are:

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