Every political party that has tasted power has a bagman, every bagman has business contacts and every business contact who pays big bucks under the table to the party will get a return on investment in the form of government contracts, says a veteran municipal organizer.
It's the way it works in any political party that operates at any level of government in Quebec, said the veteran, who has worn different hats for more than one Montreal municipal party and agreed to speak to The Gazette on condition of anonymity.
"Yes, it's a system. Absolutely," said the source, whose positions have offered a privileged view of how things work.
"The system is so well established and structured." The person said the system is "rotten" and in the past five years has fallen into the control of fewer hands.
"It has to blow up at some point. I think it's started, and you (journalists) have to keep working toward that or we'll head toward bankruptcy. ... There are people getting rich by twisting arms and at the expense of average people." A recent Radio-Canada investigation quoted sources who said municipal public-works contracts in the Montreal region are as much as 35-per-cent higher than they should be because a group of construction companies controls the bidding.
It's true, the source told The Gazette. In fact, the person said certain contracts are as much as 50-per-cent higher than they should cost.
Illegal party financing is at the root of the bloated contract prices, the person said.
Quebec's party financing rules for the provincial, municipal and school-board levels prohibit donations from companies and set an annual ceiling for contributions by individuals. At the municipal level, the personal contribution limit is $1,000 a year.
However, the source says, businesspeople are solicited by parties to pay far greater amounts to bankroll election campaigns in exchange for securing contracts.
And that's where the bagman, who acts as an intermediary in illicit or unethical transactions, comes in.
In municipal parties, the bagman is sometimes called the director of fundraising, and sometimes has no official title.
The person is like a traffic cop, the source said, directing contracts to supporters that are in proportion to the amount of money they kick in.
The under-the-table contributors are classified according to their generosity, the source said.
A party has four or five groups, starting with those who kick in $10,000 or less, up to $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000, the source said.
The bagman regularly phones or visits the offices of what the source called "influential" members of the city executive committee, which meets in private each week to award contracts and approve other items of business, to find out what contracts are coming up for tender and to remind them how they should vote on a particular contract, the source said.
"The fundraiser says, 'We have to take care of this guy because we're living off him, he's supporting us. We collected money from him for this file or that file,' " the source said.
"He (the bagman) is the one who collects money without the politicians getting their hands dirty. He's the one who links the political level and the underground financing." Municipal parties collect "double" the legal campaign spending limit through unreported contributions, the source contends.
The campaign spending limit is $2.32 million for a party running a full slate of 103 candidates.
It's easy to hide the spending of an extra $1.5 million or so, the source said.
No one can count how many pamphlets are distributed door-to-door by hand, the source said. If distribution is done by mail, it would be audited.
The party also pays cash to campaign workers who are supposedly "volunteers," the source charged. Payments are as low as $35 to $50 to get a scrutineer to sit at a polling station all day on voting day.
"It's more and more difficult to find people to work as volunteers," the source said.
The source scoffed at the role of Quebec's chief electoral officer, who is charged with ensuring party financing rules are respected.
"The chief electoral officer is an honorary title," the source said, adding that fines for offences are too low. The fines start at $500.
"We slap them on the wrist and say, 'Next time, don't get caught' " The clandestine back-scratching system relies on collusion to ensure the favoured businesspeople get contracts, the source said. Costs escalate as a result of collusion, the person added.