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Canadian magnates, American influence: Stronach empire injects millions into U.S. politics – The Globe and Mail

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Source photo: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for The Stronach Group

The Stronach family’s business empire has poured at least US$24-million into U.S. politics over the past two decades.

Companies controlled by the Canadian magnates of horse racing, casinos and ranching have bankrolled hundreds of American politicians, political action committees (PACs) and referendum campaigns as the businesses sought to influence public policy south of the border.

The empire has won a string of victories: expanded gambling in three states; a contentious permit to draw water from a depleted aquifer for a Florida cattle ranch; public funding for the renovation of two Maryland race tracks; and the survival of a California track that drew fire over a rash of horse deaths.

A Globe and Mail review of campaign finance databases and other documents, including internal Stronach company e-mails, and interviews with people involved, reveal for the first time the extent of this political activity.

Businesses controlled by Frank Stronach and his daughter, Belinda, contributed to at least 662 politicians, political parties and PACs in the U.S. The donations, which flowed from 32 different companies, often came when the Stronachs faced political hurdles.

Around the time of some contributions, Mr. Stronach personally hosted and met with political figures. Politicians held fundraisers at Adena, his cattle ranch and golf course near Ocala, Fla., and at Gulfstream Park, the Stronach-owned racetrack and casino near Miami.

Alon Ossip, a Canadian who was chief executive officer of the Stronach Group, kept watch on Gulfstream’s political contributions at the state and local levels. Mr. Ossip inquired about the status of donations, was asked to sign off on at least one, and requested ballots for a voter-registration drive, the records show.

Under U.S. campaign finance law, it is illegal for foreigners to make election campaign contributions at any level of government. Foreign owners or employees of a U.S. company are also banned from taking part in its decisions to make campaign donations.

It is legal for foreign-owned companies to donate politically, so long as the donations are controlled solely by Americans working for the company. There is no rule against foreigners attending fundraisers or contributing to referendum campaigns, though campaign finance reform advocates have long called for these laws to be toughened.

When contacted by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Stronach, 89, denied having anything to do with his companies’ political contributions in the U.S. “I wasn’t involved in any of that,” he said in a brief telephone interview.

The Stronachs in the States

These are some of the Stronach family’s U.S. assets, and

some of the significant political contributions their comp-

anies have made south of the border over the

past two decades

Stronach U.S. properties

Adena Springs

horse farm

near Paris,

Kentucky

Golden Gate

Fields horse

racing track in

Albany, Calif.

Laurel Park

horse racing

track in Laurel,

Maryland

Pimlico Race

Course

horse racing

track in

Baltimore

Santa Anita

Park

horse racing

track in

Arcadia,

California

Gulfstream Park

horse racing

track and casino

in Hallandale

Beach, Florida

Adena Farms

cattle ranch, horse

farm and formerly

golf course near

Ocala, Florida

Rosecroft

Raceway

horse racing

track in Fort

Washington,

Maryland

Significant campaign contributions

In U.S. dollars

2004 and 2005

$4.8-million

to a California

referendum that

would have allowed

casinos at racetracks

$3.7-million

to two Florida referen-

dums that legalized

slot machines at race

tracks in Broward

County

$195,000

$45,000 to then Mary-

land governor Martin

O’Malley, who pushed

the slot machine plan

and $150,000 to his

state Dem. Party

$3-million

to a referendum set-

ting up 15,000 slot

machines in Maryland

with a portion of the

revenues going to

horse tracks

$2-million opposing

a Florida referendum

intended to make future

gambling expansions

more difficult

$3.3-million

to Florida’s governing

Republican Party,

Republican-connected

PACs and Republican

candidates

adrian morrow and john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE:the stronach group; state campaign finance

databases

The Stronachs in the States

These are some of the Stronach family’s U.S. assets, and

some of the significant political contributions their comp-

anies have made south of the border over the

past two decades

Stronach U.S. properties

Golden Gate

Fields horse

racing track in

Albany, Calif.

Adena Springs

horse farm

near Paris,

Kentucky

Laurel Park

horse racing

track in Laurel,

Maryland

Pimlico Race

Course

horse racing

track in

Baltimore

Santa Anita

Park

horse racing

track in

Arcadia,

California

Adena Farms

cattle ranch, horse

farm and formerly

golf course near

Ocala, Florida

Gulfstream Park

horse racing

track and casino

in Hallandale

Beach, Florida

Rosecroft

Raceway

horse racing

track in Fort

Washington,

Maryland

Significant campaign contributions

In U.S. dollars

2004 and 2005

$4.8-million

to a California

referendum that

would have allowed

casinos at racetracks

$3.7-million

to two Florida referen-

dums that legalized

slot machines at race

tracks in Broward

County

$195,000

$45,000 to then Mary-

land governor Martin

O’Malley, who pushed

the slot machine plan

and $150,000 to his

state Dem. Party

$3-million

to a referendum set-

ting up 15,000 slot

machines in Maryland

with a portion of the

revenues going to

horse tracks

$2-million opposing

a Florida referendum

intended to make future

gambling expansions

more difficult

$3.3-million

to Florida’s governing

Republican Party,

Republican-connected

PACs and Republican

candidates

adrian morrow and john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE:the stronach group; state campaign finance

databases

The Stronachs in the States

These are some of the Stronach family’s U.S. assets, and some of the significant

political contributions their companies have made south of the border over the

past two decades

Stronach U.S. properties

Laurel Park

horse racing

track in Laurel,

Maryland

Golden Gate

Fields horse

racing track in

Albany, California

Pimlico

Race Course

horse racing

track in

Baltimore

Adena Springs

horse farm

near Paris,

Kentucky

Rosecroft Raceway

horse racing track

in Fort Washington,

Maryland

Santa Anita Park

horse racing track

in Arcadia, California

Adena Farms

cattle ranch, horse

farm and formerly

golf course near

Ocala, Florida

Gulfstream Park

horse racing

track and casino

in Hallandale

Beach, Florida

Significant campaign contributions

In U.S. dollars

2004 and 2005

$4.8-million

to a California

referendum that

would have allowed

casinos at racetracks

$3.7-million

to two Florida referen-

dums that legalized

slot machines at race

tracks in Broward

County

$3-million

to a referendum set-

ting up 15,000 slot

machines in Maryland

with a portion of the

revenues going to

horse tracks

$195,000

$45,000 to then Mary-

land governor Martin

O’Malley, who pushed

the slot machine plan

and $150,000 to his

state Dem. Party

$2-million opposing

a Florida referendum

intended to make future

gambling expansions

more difficult

$3.3-million

to Florida’s governing

Republican Party,

Republican-connected

PACs and Republican

candidates

adrian morrow and john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE:the stronach group; state campaign finance databases

The Stronach Group refused to answer any specific questions about its political spending. In an e-mail, spokeswoman Tiffani Steer said “there is and has been compliance” with “applicable local and national regulations” by Belinda Stronach, 55.

Mr. Ossip’s spokesman, Paul Deegan, said Mr. Ossip may have been involved in discussions about political donations because he had to ensure there was room in the company budget for them. But Mr. Deegan said Mr. Ossip “didn’t direct” the contributions, and therefore had not broken the law.

“During Mr. Ossip’s operational tenure, which ended in January, 2017, all political participation, including all donations, was done in full compliance with all applicable U.S. legal and regulatory requirements, including all prohibitions with respect to foreign nationals,” Mr. Deegan said.

The Stronachs, of course, are no strangers to the political arena. A brash libertarian, family patriarch Mr. Stronach even ran a political party in his native Austria between 2012 and 2017. Ms. Stronach, now the Stronach Group’s chair and CEO, was a federal MP from 2004 to 2008. She ran unsuccessfully for the Conservative Party leadership before switching to the Liberals and serving briefly in then-prime minister Paul Martin’s cabinet.

The family companies’ U.S. campaign contributions offer a case study in how foreign-controlled business interests can thoroughly embed themselves in American political culture – and win significant policy concessions.


On a wide arterial road amid the suburban expanse north of Miami sits a seven-storeys-tall statue of Pegasus, the mythical Greek winged horse, fighting a dragon. The enormous steel and bronze sculpture, commissioned by Frank Stronach, is both a marker of Gulfstream Park’s entrance in Hallandale Beach, Fla., and the scale of Mr. Stronach’s ambition.

Born in Austria, he immigrated to Canada after the Second World War, at age 22, and made his fortune as the founder of auto parts giant Magna International Inc. By the late 1990s, Mr. Stronach turned much of his business acumen to his passion for horses. He bought up tracks across the U.S., as well as technology companies that manage betting on and televising races.

After Mr. Stronach left Magna in 2011, he held onto several horse tracks: Florida’s Gulfstream, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park in Maryland, and Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California. He also kept farms in Florida and Kentucky for raising horses, and the tech companies. And he set up a cattle ranch, slaughterhouse and golf course near Ocala, alternately named Adena or Sleepy Creek. He brought all of these businesses under the umbrella of the Stronach Group.

To increase revenue from his tracks, Mr. Stronach’s companies pushed for major expansions of gambling in the U.S. From 2004 to 2020, his companies pumped more than US$17-million into referendum campaigns in six states that aimed to legalize or increase gambling at racetracks.

The contributions included US$3.7-million to two Florida plebiscites in 2004 and 2005 on the authorization of slot machines at racetracks in Broward County, just north of Miami. The referendums passed, allowing Mr. Stronach to build the casino at Gulfstream. In Oklahoma in 2004, Remington Park, a Stronach-owned horse track at the time, donated US$250,000 to a successful referendum for a slots-at-racetracks program.

In Maryland, Mr. Stronach’s empire gave US$3-million to a 2008 ballot measure that approved setting up 15,000 slot machines in the state, with a portion of the revenues given to horse tracks. His businesses also gave US$45,000 in campaign funds to then-governor Martin O’Malley, who supported the slot machine plan, and US$150,000 to Mr. O’Malley’s state Democratic Party.

These efforts didn’t always go the Stronachs’ way. In 2018, Gulfstream spent US$2-million trying to defeat a Florida ballot measure requiring all future gambling expansions to be voted on in referendums rather than authorized by the state legislature. This requirement was meant to make it much harder to allow for more gambling in the state. Voters approved it.

A seven-storey pegasus statue stands at the entry to Gulfstream Park, the Stronach-owned racetrack and casino near Miami.typhoonski/Getty Images

The Stronachs’ businesses have also given generously to politicians and PACs. The lion’s share of this spending has been in Florida.

Stronach-connected companies have given more than US$1.4-million to the Florida Republican Party, which has governed the state since the late 1990s, another US$1.4-million to Republican-connected PACs and hundreds of thousands more to individual politicians.

Florida’s Democratic Party, meanwhile, received US$700,000 and other Democratic committees got US$161,000.

Typically subject to looser rules than politicians themselves, PACs are one of the most criticized features of U.S. campaign finance. The committees are often used by campaigns to do things that political candidates would either be forbidden from doing by law or would prefer not to have their names directly associated with, such as raking in enormous corporate contributions and running attack ads.

The Stronach Group’s political involvement went beyond simply writing cheques.

Two of the company’s former employees said that, in 2017, then Florida agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam held a fundraiser at Adena Golf and Country Club, Mr. Stronach’s course near his cattle ranch. Mr. Stronach attended the fundraiser, they said. Both former staffers would speak only on condition of anonymity, for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with Mr. Stronach or his companies.

State campaign finance disclosures show more than US$18,000 in in-kind contributions to Mr. Putnam’s campaign from the Stronach-owned Adena Golf and Country Club.John Raoux/The Associated Press

State campaign finance disclosures show more than US$18,000 in in-kind contributions to Mr. Putnam’s campaign from Adena Golf, listed as “event food and beverage.” At the time, Mr. Putnam was the front-runner for the following year’s gubernatorial election.

Over the year following the fundraiser, several U.S. companies controlled by the Stronach Group gave a combined US$314,775.44 to Mr. Putnam and his PAC, Florida Grown. The donations came from eight different entities. These included Gulfstream and Adena, as well as Xpressbet and AmTote, Stronach-owned gambling technology companies based in Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively.

Marc Dunbar, then a lobbyist for the Stronach Group, confirmed Mr. Stronach attended Mr. Putnam’s fundraiser at Adena. He said the pair also often met at a house Mr. Stronach maintained on his ranch, where they dined on Adena beef and discussed policy issues.

The two talked about what the state could do to make it easier for wealthy horse owners such as Mr. Stronach to do business there, how the state could promote Mr. Stronach’s beef in supermarkets and how Mr. Putnam could help Mr. Stronach find other ranchers to use his slaughterhouse, Mr. Dunbar said.

But Mr. Dunbar said Mr. Stronach did not personally promise Mr. Putnam campaign contributions.

“Frank never had conversations with U.S. politicians about money,” said Mr. Dunbar, who served as one of the Stronach Group’s top lobbyists in Florida from 1999 to 2018. “I remember having multiple dinners with Frank Stronach and Adam Putnam, and I don’t remember a single one where political contributions were discussed.”

Structures inside the gate of Adena Golf & Country Club, a $50 million golf course developed by Frank Stronach, in Ocala, Florida. The Adena ranch was at the centre of one of the Stronach empire’s most pervasive public policy headaches.Charlotte Kesl/Globe and Mail

Reached on his mobile phone by The Globe, Mr. Stronach initially said he “wasn’t involved” in U.S. political spending. Asked specifically about Mr. Putnam’s 2017 fundraiser, and whether he had approved any donations, Mr. Stronach said: “That was many, many years ago … I don’t remember. I don’t remember.” Mr. Stronach hung up the phone. He did not respond to detailed written questions about his U.S. political activity.

Mr. Putnam, who is now the CEO of Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. conservationist group, did not answer requests for comment.

Adena was at the centre of one of the Stronach empire’s most pervasive public policy headaches.

The ranch wanted to pump millions of litres of groundwater daily to water the grass. But the St. Johns River Water Management District, an arm’s-length government agency tasked with deciding whether to issue water permits for the area, determined the aquifer was too depleted to handle Adena’s demand. In 2014, the district turned down the permit request.

Behind the scenes, former St. Johns employees said, the administration of Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor from 2011 to 2019, repeatedly intervened in ways that helped Adena and others seeking water permits.

Jeff Cole, then-chief of staff for the water management district, said state officials frequently asked him to change policies to allow more consumption. The calls typically came from Noah Valenstein, Mr. Scott’s environmental policy adviser, and Jon Steverson, a high-ranking staffer with the department of environmental protection, Mr. Cole said.

“It was not at all unusual for them to give direction on what they wanted to see – typically, it was water policy that was less protective of the environment and less protective of water supply,” he said.

Jim Gross, a top hydrologist at the district at the time, confirmed Mr. Cole’s account. He recalled one meeting in 2014 at which Mr. Cole told his subordinates the governor did not like the district’s planning because scientists had found that “excessive withdrawals of water” were hurting the aquifer.

In 2015, Mr. Scott’s administration purged the water management district’s leadership. Mr. Cole said he was told by John Miklos, the Scott-appointed chair of the district’s board at the time, that Mr. Cole and several other managers had to resign or they would be terminated. Another former employee of the district said he was also shown the same list of names by Mr. Miklos. Mr. Cole and the other managers on the list resigned.

After they were gone, the district switched to a different method of modelling water levels and reversed its decision on the Stronach permit. Adena ultimately received permission to pump more than 10.1 million litres per day.

Mr. Valenstein and Mr. Steverson did not respond to The Globe’s questions. Mr. Miklos declined to comment.

Other decisions by Mr. Scott and his Republican allies in the state house and senate also helped the Stronach businesses.

Celebrity Vanessa Hudgens attends the 2017 Inaugural $12 Million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, The World’s Richest Thoroughbred Horse Race At Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida.Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for The Stronach Group

In 2012, legislators passed a tax cut package that included a break specifically targeted at Adena, according to the Miami Herald. The tax break exempted slaughterhouses from paying taxes on some electricity.

Neither Mr. Scott nor Thad Altman, the state senator who sponsored the slaughterhouse tax break, responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Scott, now a federal senator, was one of the highest-level politicians to receive contributions from the Stronachs’ companies. Two PACs connected to him, Let’s Get to Work and New Republican PAC, notched a combined US$150,000.

Photographs from the 2018 edition of the Pegasus World Cup, one of Gulfstream’s marquee annual races, show Mr. Scott in attendance, posing alongside Frank and Belinda Stronach.

Several internal Stronach Group e-mail exchanges suggest that Mr. Stronach was not the only Canadian executive playing a role in the empire’s political activity.

Two days before Hallandale Beach’s local elections in November of 2016, Mr. Ossip, the company’s then-CEO, e-mailed a company lawyer to ask if Gulfstream had contributed to Bill Julian, a member of the city commission.

“Did Gsp give any money to Julian,” Mr. Ossip asked. “Even before his corruption.” Mr. Julian had been accused of taking a bribe from a developer; he was later cleared by the Broward state attorney’s office. The lawyer, Michael Fucheck, replied that the company had not contributed to Mr. Julian.

In May of that year, Michelle Martinez, an Adena employee, wrote that “Alon” had requested eight “voter registration ballots” as part of a program called the “Hallandale Beach Register to Vote Initiative.”

In a June e-mail, Mr. Fucheck filled in Mr. Ossip and several other Stronach Group employees on local political fundraisers he was organizing. “Alon, further to our conversation last week,” he began the e-mail, before detailing events he planned for two candidates to the local council.

Stronach companies put at least US$130,000 into contributions in Hallandale Beach, primarily to support a faction led by then city commissioner Keith London. In 2016 and 2018, Gulfstream was the single largest donor to Ethics Matter and 27th State, PACs supporting Mr. London and his allies.

One source with knowledge of the donations said the relevant issue for Gulfstream was a new road that Hallandale’s mayor, Joy Cooper, wanted to build over part of the company’s property. Gulfstream backed her rivals on the commission, led by Mr. London.

In an e-mail in March of 2016, Mr. London flagged for Mr. Ossip an item on an upcoming commission meeting concerning the planned road. Mr. Ossip arranged a meeting between Mr. London and a Stronach Group architect to discuss the matter.

To increase revenue from his tracks, Stronach-owned companies pumped more than US$17-million into referendum campaigns in six states that aimed to legalize or increase gambling at racetracks from 2004 to 2018.Paul Morigi/Getty Images

In May of 2016, Mr. London e-mailed Mr. Ossip and several other Gulfstream employees to ask for help thwarting a potential ethics complaint. Mr. London had used a room at a Gulfstream-owned steakhouse the previous month for an event. Ms. Cooper was now planning to file an ethics complaint against him for accepting a “gift” from Gulfstream.

Mr. London floated several possible options for pushing back, including retroactively paying Gulfstream for the room or having Gulfstream tell him that the room was free to use for anyone. “To stop her and embarrass her I have a few options but need some information,” Mr. London wrote to Mr. Ossip.

“Keith, your memory fails you. You agreed to pay $350 for the room,” Mr. Ossip replied. “It takes time to process it.”

Mr. London did not respond to The Globe’s questions.

In another e-mail thread from May of 2016, concerning US$25,000 in donations to the Florida Democratic Party, Mr. Ossip was asked to approve the spending. “Alon – are you OK with this?” Mr. Fucheck wrote. It is unclear whether Mr. Ossip responded.

In that thread, Mr. Dunbar said he had promised the donation to Oscar Braynon, the Democratic leader in the Florida state senate. Mr. Dunbar advised that the money be split between four different Stronach Group companies.

“Need to follow thru on the 25k commitment to Sen Braynon,” Mr. Dunbar wrote. “I recommend we do it with 4 checks. One for 10k from GP and 3 checks for 5k from Palm Meadows, the Village and Orchid. Need to make delivery this week.”

State records show four Stronach Group-connected contributions to the Florida Democratic Party on June 23, 2016. One for US$10,000 from Gulfstream Park; and three for US$5,000 each from GPRA Thoroughbred Training Center, The Village at Gulfstream Park and Orchid Concessions. GPRA is a horse training facility also named Palm Meadows, Orchid runs food and beverage services at Gulfstream and the Village is the holding company for shop and restaurant properties near the racetrack.

Mr. Dunbar told The Globe that he asked for the donation to be split up because each of the companies had “different interests.”

He said Mr. Ossip wanted to direct campaign donations, and Mr. Dunbar had cautioned him over it. “Alon Ossip tried to get involved in the political contributions, and I had to continue to remind him that it was illegal,” Mr. Dunbar said. “Alon was just a bit of a control freak, and sometimes he would go outside of his boundaries.”

Mr. Ossip’s spokesman, Mr. Deegan, said Mr. Ossip did not personally authorize any contributions and had not broken the law.

While the e-mails show that Mr. Ossip was involved in conversations about the donations, Mr. Deegan maintained that Mr. Ossip was only being kept in the loop but wasn’t involved in signing off on the spending. “In terms of directing or anything like that – absolutely no, and you can quote me on that,” Mr. Deegan said.

The relevant U.S. regulations specify that foreign nationals cannot “direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process” of a corporation on election campaign donations at any level of government.

Mr. Ossip took a leave of absence from the Stronach Group in January, 2017, amid an internecine fight between Frank and Belinda Stronach for control of the empire. Mr. Ossip left for good earlier this year.

State campaign finance records suggest that both the Florida Republican and Democratic parties held events at Gulfstream. The records show in-kind contributions from Gulfstream at the same time as the 2017 Pegasus World Cup to both the Republican Party of Florida and Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign, for “lodging, food and beverage” and “horse track tickets.” Another in-kind contribution is logged from Gulfstream in November, 2015, to the Florida Democratic Party.

Outside of Florida, the Stronach empire’s donations have been more modest. But the companies have still made political contributions as they grappled with public policy issues.

In Maryland, for instance, the Stronach Group closed a deal in 2019 which will see the state government plough US$375-million into renovating Pimlico and Laurel Park. In exchange, the company agreed not to move The Preakness Stakes, a prestigious Baltimore horse race and the second leg in the U.S. Triple Crown, to another track.

Stronach Group companies donated US$11,000 to Mike Miller, the president of the state senate at the time of the deal; US$6,000 to Adrienne Jones, the lower house Speaker who pushed the bill; and US$6,000 to Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who opted not to veto the bill despite expressing misgivings over new public expenditures.

In California, meanwhile, the company gave US$29,200 to Democrat Gavin Newsom’s successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign; $13,600 to Kamala Harris’s 2014 re-election as state attorney-general; and US$14,600 to her successor, Xavier Becerra.

Mr. Newsom expressed concern over a spike in horse deaths at Santa Anita in 2019. But he opted not to shut down the track after it banned drugging and whipping horses on racing days, the first track in the U.S. to impose such restrictions.

At the federal level, the Stronach Group backed the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, legislation passed last year that creates uniform standards of horse medication across the country, overseen by an industry-run body.

Andy Barr, the Republican Kentucky congressman who spent nearly a decade pushing the legislation, received financial support from high-level Stronach executives.

In 2018, Tim Ritvo, the Stronach Group’s then-chief operating officer; his wife, Katherine Ritvo; and Robert O’Neil, then Gulfstream’s head veterinarian, made a series of donations totalling US$100,000 to Mr. Barr’s re-election campaign and to the Kentucky Republican Party.

The contributions came in identical cheques: On March 19, both Ritvos and Mr. O’Neill each gave US$15,000 to the Andy Barr Victory Committee; and two US$2,700 cheques apiece to Andy Barr for Congress. On June 22, they each gave US$9,600 to the Republican Party of Kentucky.

After an acrimonious, years-long legal battle between father and daughter, Belinda Stronach remains in control of the Stronach Group, with ownership of the family’s horse tracks, casinos and gambling software companies.Wilfredo Lee/The Canadian Press

Mr. Barr did not respond to The Globe’s questions.

There is a page in the Stronach Group’s employee manual that explicitly tells foreigners working for the company not to get involved in political contributions. American employees who try to get foreign employees involved, for their part, can be fired over it, the document says.

“U.S. federal law strictly prohibits foreign nationals from involvement in the U.S. political process,” it warns, “and from authorizing, supervising, managing or otherwise being involved in the political activities of any U.S. corporation.”


The Stronach empire is currently at a crossroads. After an acrimonious, years-long legal battle between father and daughter, the pair divided up their assets last summer.

Belinda Stronach remains in control of the Stronach Group, with ownership of the family’s horse tracks, casinos and gambling software companies. Frank Stronach has hived off the cattle ranch and horse-raising businesses.

The hazy connections between money, politics and policy interventions that their companies have evinced in the U.S. are exactly what campaign finance watchdogs fear. And such activities, they say, are very hard to detect. When a foreign-owned company makes a donation, for instance, it is difficult to determine if a foreign owner or executive participated in the decision.

“That’s generally a pretty easily-evaded standard,” said Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based election transparency group. “It would be almost impossible to know whether a company’s foreign owners or board members directed the contribution. These decisions are not made in public, there is no public record of them.”

The rules also contain some loopholes. For instance, the law and associated regulations do not specify whether the ban on foreign election contributions also applies to referendum campaigns. This has made it legal for foreigners to give money to campaigns for and against such plebiscites, a regular feature of state and local politics in the U.S.

Campaign finance laws are particularly lax in Florida. Donations to politicians themselves are theoretically subject to caps of US$3,000 annually per contributor. But politicians are also allowed to control PACs that can legally accept unlimited donations.

“It’s a dysfunctional system that’s been set up to allow these forms of unlimited spending,” said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based group calling for more stringent campaign finance laws. “It happens all the time … political influence by corporate interests and their ability to win favourable public policy and favourable regulatory decisions from the state government.”

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Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA

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Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.

“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.

“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”

Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.

“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.

 

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg

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Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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Now, more than ever, the N.W.T. government needs party politics – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by former Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In 2019 near the end of my term as an MLA, I proposed implementing a caucus system that, among other things, would allow for political discipline of MLAs. At the time MLAs rejected any changes that would limit their jealously-guarded independence. What they failed to recognize was that this proposal was not about imposing discipline, rather it was about enabling politicians to effectively discipline MLAs when required. 

The Norn affair and the pronounced lack of any real accountability in the legislature over the government’s failings are the consequences of being governed by a gang of loosely aligned political independents who lack common vision and leadership.

This point was made by MLA Rylund Johnson who said, “In party systems, the party whip would probably make sure this never happens. Party caucuses would kick members out and make them irrelevant …Those aren’t tools that we have in consensus government.”

The consensus system is based on little more than good intentions and is powerless to address its own failings, with MLAs routinely using their constituents as a convenient smoke screen for their own bad behaviour. 

Sound familiar? It should, it happens all the time with the recent example of Steve Norn being the most spectacular failure of political will to date in the 19th Assembly.

Norn’s sustained attacks on his colleagues and the legislature were left virtually unchecked by MLAs, who stood by silently. Public confidence in elected officials has been shaken to the point that two former premiers have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing sitting MLAs. Scandal and policy failures have become the chief commodity of the Legislative Assembly and Caroline Cochrane’s government.

While other provinces acted swiftly with new spending and policies to bolster their economies and attract new health-care workers, the Cochrane government has wrung its hands, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia. We have watched in real time as our health-care system has buckled and broken under the strain of the pandemic, with no plan yet released for economic recovery after months and months of delay. And despite the outcry from Northerners for their government to act, the “unofficial opposition” of regular MLAs is absent, or at least silent, unable to muster the courage and unify to demand better government from the cabinet. 

In the Northwest Territories the people have a choice in who gets to take power but not in how that power is used, nor can they hold the powerful accountable during elections. MLAs appoint the premier and cabinet, who are solely accountable to each other. This means that voters have no say over who forms government or what that government does for its four-year term and cannot hold that government accountable for its decisions. This leaves accountability in the hands of an undisciplined committee of regular MLAs who lack resources, staff, and experience to provide alternatives to cabinet policies. Public policy development and implementation are the sole domain of unelected bureaucrats in the government’s senior management.

Despite the constant mythologizing of consensus government as a superior form of government, founded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, the fact is none of the N.W.T.’s self-governing Indigenous nations use consensus systems, nor did Indigenous people design the system when it was first implemented decades ago. That honour falls to federal bureaucrats when they devolved responsible government to our young territory. Despite their frustration, Northerners continue to consent to an undemocratic democracy where their electoral choices have been reduced to little more than an overblown hiring competition. 

A culture of silence has taken root in the N.W.T.’s democratic discourse. The fear of reprisal from those in power forces many to whisper in the back of coffee shops and speak anonymously to reporters, when they ought to be able to freely express their own views and see those views transformed into political action.

There was a time that the consensus system served Northerners well. But that time has passed, made clear by persistent scandal and public policy implosions that have not stopped since the last election. We’ve seen devolution create a modern N.W.T. granted nearly full responsibility over its land and resources. It is now time for evolution to transform our political system into a modern multi-party democracy that can provide unity and real action on the most pressing issues.

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