BC Politics

Stone Campaign Blames Online Company for Membership Mess

This is the same company Todd Stone vigorously defended mere days ago.

By Andrew MacLeod 2 Feb 2018 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Liberal leadership candidate Todd Stone’s campaign is blaming a membership mess-up on AggregateIQ Data Services Inc., a Victoria company Stone recently defended hiring even though it was already under investigation by privacy officials in two countries.

“It’s hard to figure out what he was thinking [hiring AIQ],” said Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association advocacy group. “Either he was oblivious ... or he didn’t care. I don’t know how he could be shocked. It certainly calls his judgment into question at minimum.”

A spokesperson for Stone didn’t respond to The Tyee by publication time.

The mistake, which resulted in 1,349 of the members the Stone campaign signed up being barred from voting, was caught by the party’s security auditing process before voting began.

“It was an error in judgement made by the individual who was doing that data entry at AIQ,” the Vancouver Sun quoted Stone campaign co-chair Peter Fassbender saying Friday.

Allegedly, the individual at AIQ created numerous fake email addresses for mainly non-English speaking residents. Doing so would make it possible for a campaign to register on behalf of those members, collect their personal identification numbers and vote for them, which would be against the Liberal party’s rules.

Neither AggregateIQ’s CEO Zack Massingham nor its chief operating officer Jeff Silvester immediately responded to a request for comment on Friday.

Two weeks ago, after The Tyee revealed Stone had hired Aggregate IQ, he praised the company’s work. “AIQ is one of the best digital marketing companies in North America,” he said then. “I continue to have tremendous confidence in what they are capable of and what they’ve done for our campaign.”

But AggregateIQ had already gained some notoriety following the Brexit vote in 2016 when campaign disclosures showed that Vote Leave campaigners spent £3.5 million — about $5.75 million — with the company headquartered in downtown Victoria.

In May, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced a formal investigation “into the use of data analytics for political purposes” by AggregateIQ and other organizations.

In B.C., the province’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is reviewing whether AggregateIQ is complying with the Personal Information Protection Act, privacy legislation that covers the private sector.

Another BC Liberal leadership campaign, Mike de Jong’s, turned down working with AIQ for “moral” reasons, The Tyee reported. “There’d been a bunch of mess around them with the various campaigns they’d been associated with,” campaign strategist Stephen Carter said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable they weren’t going to get us in trouble.”

Carter declined Friday to say “I told you so,” but said it was a problem that 20,718 BC Liberals, about 53.8 percent of those registered to vote, had already voted when news of the problem become public. “They voted not knowing the full story,” he said.

The bigger story is that Dianne Watts’ campaign also appeared to have had a large number of memberships rejected by the party, he said.

As the party audited memberships, the number eligible to vote shrank by 4,000, Carter said. The Stone, de Jong, Michael Lee, Andrew Wilkinson and Sam Sullivan campaigns account for fewer than 1,700 of them, he said.

“There’s only one campaign left. 2,300 memberships are missing. We know everybody else. It’s simple arithmetic now.”

And while the small number rejected for de Jong, Lee, Wilkinson and Sullivan could be put down to genuine administrative error, Carter said, that couldn’t be said for the Watts and Stone campaigns.

“I think if either one of them win, it’s going to be a question mark for the party,” he said. “Fourteen hundred and 2,300 memberships not allowed for specific campaigns? That’s not administrative error. At the very least its an attempt to manipulate the process. That’s what bugs me.”

A spokesperson for Watts did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

A BC Liberal Party spokesperson said the party has taken steps to improve the security of voting in its leadership contest. “All membership applications submitted to the Party were subject to a rigorous inspection and verification process,” David Wasyluk said in an email. “In any case where the Party was not satisfied that an email address was the applicant’s own as required by the rules, those applications were not accepted.

“Based on that process, we are confident that only those membership applications that have met all of the Party’s criteria for membership, including those applications submitted by the Todd Stone campaign, have been accepted.”

Voting closes at 5 p.m. on Saturday with results to be announced shortly after that.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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