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Tory wants Martin's legal defence fund investigated

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin settled a nearly year-old defamation suit last week, but he is now facing a possible ethics investigation of the defence fund he set up.

Just one week after the final paperwork came through settling the $5-million defamation suit against Martin last year by Racknine Inc., Conservative MP Erin O'Toole wrote a letter to the federal ethics commissioner asking her to investigate whether Martin was violating rules by raising money to fund his defence.

"I have asked for certain fundraising efforts to be examined to ensure the rules to keep corporate and union money out of politics are not being circumvented and the ethics rules are being respected," O'Toole said in his letter to the commissioner, sent Sunday.

Racknine filed the lawsuit last winter after Martin made comments suggesting the company was complicit in a scheme to confuse voters about where to vote during the 2011 federal election with a series of robocalls directing them to phoney polling stations.

Racknine was hired to make the calls, but Elections Canada has stated the firm was not part of the scheme, wasn't aware of the content of the calls and fully co-operated with the investigation.

A public apology was not enough to settle the lawsuit. It was settled for an undisclosed amount last week. Martin said he was sort of relieved but had also been tempted to "see it out to its conclusion."

But the cost of fighting the lawsuit and paying the settlement -- the details cannot be disclosed -- are high and Martin launched a trust fund last June to try raising money to pay the legal bills.

O'Toole is concerned about reports the Pat Martin Legal Defence Fund received a $10,000 donation from a union, and about how the fund is promoted, which O'Toole says mimics political fundraising.

But Martin said Monday the initiative was cleared by Elections Canada, Revenue Canada and the ethics commissioner.

"We had lengthy consultations and opinions from the ethics commissioner, and it was with her co-operation and direction the trust fund was formed," Martin said.

The fund is not eligible for tax receipts, and all donations will be publicly disclosed through the ethics commissioner, Martin said. He said the main concern she had was whether donations would influence his vote at any time, and she warned him if legislation comes up that directly affects a donor, he may have to recuse himself from the vote.

Martin said he isn't involved in the day-to-day operations of the fund, but he believes it has raised around $90,000 at this point. "We're nowhere near what we need," he said. "It's a staggering amount of money, but we're not allowed to divulge that."

Martin said he "fully expected" the Conservatives to make such a claim, though he's confident everything was done properly.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 A5

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