Business offered staff overtime to campaign for PC candidate, Liberal complaint alleges

A campaign sign for Stan Cho, the PC candidate for Willowdale. Twitter/StanChoMPP

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives were forced to launch an internal investigation into the campaign financing of Willowdale candidate Stan Cho after allegations from a competing campaign about an improper corporate donation.

Lawyers for the Ontario Liberal Party sent a letter to Elections Ontario requesting an official investigation after a business owner pledged to pay volunteers overtime in exchange for helping Cho’s campaign.

The Liberals claimed that constitutes an “illegal donation.”

The allegation stems from a Willowdale campaign rally in early May. During the event, Jaeson Koo, the founder of PH Food and the chair of the Korean Heritage Award Committee, allegedly offered to assist the campaign with his own employees by paying for any overtime they would incur.

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“He would let his employees go and help with candidate Cho’s campaign after hours every day with a goal of securing 100 voters. He added that the employer ‘PH Food’ would pay for their employees’ overtime work,” stated a Korean-language publication, according to the complaint.

On May 13, the Liberals contacted Elections Ontario, claiming Koo’s offer merited further investigation into whether the donation was made and whether Cho was personally aware of campaign volunteers being given overtime pay by a company in return for their help.

“It appears that Mr. Cho is obtaining an improper benefit in the form of the services of PH Foods Inc. which may well have the potential to affect the outcome of the election,” the letter to Elections Ontario claimed.

The PC Party confirmed to Global News the authenticity of the complaint.

The campaign said, in its own letter to Elections Ontario, that the business owner “did in fact offer to support the campaign by encouraging his company’s employees to volunteer and paying their overtime” but that neither Cho nor his campaign officials had any advance knowledge of the offer.

“After the comments of Mr. Koo came to the attention of the campaign when they were published in the article referenced in the complaint, he was informed by Mr. Cho’s campaign manager, Ryan Cole, that such support was inappropriate and would not be accepted,” a PC Party lawyer said in its rebuttal to Elections Ontario.

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“To the knowledge of the campaign, no such contribution to the campaign by Mr. Koo’s company has occurred and none of its employees has worked or volunteered on the campaign.”

The Elections Finance Act does not allow parties or candidates to “knowingly accept contributions from any corporation.” Contributions to campaigns must come from individuals, not companies.

“Contributions to parties, constituency associations, nomination contestants, candidates and leadership contestants registered under this Act may be made only by persons individually,” the legislation states.

The Elections Finance Act stipulates that voluntary labour is not considered a contribution.

Elections Ontario would not confirm the allegation when contacted by Global News.

“Elections Ontario does not comment on whether or not it has received a complaint or whether or not it is investigating a matter,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Candidates running from the other main political parties in the Willowdale riding include Ontario Liberal candidate Paul Saguil, Ontario Green Party candidate Monica Henriques and Ontario NDP candidate Hal David Berman.

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