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University of Calgary audit alleges research funds used to fund anti-Kyoto political campaign

A University of Calgary political scientist has been implicated in allegations that research funds were used to conduct third-party campaigning during the 2005/06 federal election. A University of Calgary internal audit was released last week after Canwest News Services made a request under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.

The audit reveals that two research funds set up by U of C political scientist Barry Cooper in 2004 were used to funnel money to Friends of Science, a Calgary based anti-Kyoto organization, to produce radio ads during the 2005/06 election. According to the audit, the radio spots “may be interpreted as seeking to change the government’s policy on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol and therefore a political activity.”

Cooper’s name was blacked out of the audit because of privacy restrictions, but a Friends of Science spokesperson confirmed to campus paper, the Gauntlet, that the researcher was indeed Cooper. Cooper is a long time member of the political science department. Though a Calgary based organization, the Friends of Science ads were directed exclusively at Ontario ridings. Polling data from the regions of Kitchener-Waterloo, Peterborough, Thunder Bay, London and Ottawa, suggest that the ads played a role in winning votes for the Conservatives.

Elections Canada is also investigating the allegations because election law requires third-party campaigners to register, which the Friends of Science failed to do.

Just over $180, 000 of the more than $500,000 donated to the research accounts was claimed as tax deductible by anonymous donors. This would, allegedly, be in violation of tax law that prohibits charities from engaging in partisan activities. The fact that the donors have been able to remain anonymous because they were supposedly making charitable donations in supporting academic research has raised a series of ethical questions.

“What that money has funded is highly political work that reflects a position that is to the advantage of an industry. That’s why people are concerned,” a McGill communications professor told the Globe and Mail.

Friends of Science is a group that consists of former academics and individuals involved in the oil industry.

The University of Calgary initiated the audit after complaints from an anonymous individual about the relationship between the University and the Friends of Science. According to a U of C news release the focus of the audit was:

“Whether the U of C was used as a conduit in the funding of Friends of Science via a researcher’s trust accounts; whether the radio ads run by FOS in the last federal election were funded either directly or indirectly through the Researcher’s trust accounts; and whether activities funded by grants were not legitimate scientific research and education and were funded by anonymous donors to promote special interests.”

In addition to the ads, a video was made, but the audit, citing lack of evidence, declined to conclude whether or not the video was “based on an intellectually honest search for knowledge.”

According to the Gauntlet, the Friends of Science were unhappy with the purportedly overtly political nature of the video, “we admit the way it was structured originally — because the political science department at the U of C was behind it — there was a strong political element that we weren’t too happy with,” a spokesperson said.

Despite the fact that Cooper is a long time friend of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and that Tom Flanagan another U of C political scientist ran the 2006 campaign, environment minister John Baird vehemently denied allegations that the Conservative party knew anything about the Friends of Science campaign.

When asked about it by Liberal David McGuinty, Baird replied, “Mr. Speaker, blah, blah, blah . . . The member for Ottawa Centre puts on his tinfoil hat and develops these great theories. There are two reasons why this government is in office. One is the leadership of the Prime Minister of Canada and the other is because of the support of the Liberal Party of Canada.”

Morten Paulsen, a Tory spokesperson during the 2006 election ran a consulting firm that accepted $25, 000 from the Friends of Science to produce the ads, according to the audit. Canwest reported Sunday that Paulsen “declined to answer questions.”

To ensure that future research accounts are directed for appropriate purposes, the university will be revamping its approval process.

“Two issues became very clear in reviewing this audit. First, we need to have a more thorough evaluation and approval process. Second, we need to ensure that all those involved in these accounts understand the rules and relevant regulatory and statutory requirements,” said Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-President, Academic. “

The audit comes amid separate allegations of overspending against the Conservatives that recently involved an RCMP raid on party headquarters.

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