Campaign 'never authorized' fake websites: Van Meerbergen
LONDON, ONT. -- London Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen is standing behind his statement that he had no knowledge of an invoice for an attack website created for the 2018 municipal election - saying it "does not exist."
"I did not receive this invoice, I didn't pay the invoice. In short I knew nothing about it. And it's a fabricated document - I stand by that...We never authorized in the campaign any websites, fake websites."
He adds that he was the only one with cheque-signing authority who could approve contracts, including the one with Blackridge for the campaign, and the campaign "had nothing to do with these websites, full stop."
On Monday, Van Meerbergen had issued a statement denying knowledge of the document that read, “I can assure you that I did not receive this invoice and I did not pay it. The invoice is a complete fabrication.”
Political consulting firm Blackridge Strategy clarified on Tuesday how it invoices clients, but is not specifically referring to documents turned over to lawyer Susan Toth under court order.
A statement to CTV News reads, “For work done on political campaigns, Blackridge invoices the campaign. We can't speak to who specifically sees and pays the invoice on the other end."
Among numerous client-related documents released by Toth to the media was an invoice made out to Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen for “Attack ads against Virginia Ridley” and “anonymous website.” It totalled $1,320.
Toth represents Councillor Maureen Cassidy and former councillor Councillor Virginia Ridley.
Blackridge now offers new information that suggests the invoice is not “fabricated,” and that the invoice could have been sent to Van Meerbergen's campaign team, rather than the candidate.
“We are in the awkward position of maintaining our confidentiality agreements while defending ourselves against an accusation of falsifying court documents.”
Blackridge Strategy goes on to explain that, “in general terms, if a candidate leading a campaign is not aware of an invoice processed on his/her behalf by a campaign volunteer, said candidate should say as much rather than attack a service provider.”
Van Meerbergen has repeatedly said he had no knowledge of the website that attacked his Ward 10 opponent Virginia Ridley.
A Van Meerbergen campaign volunteer, Barry Phillips has previously admitted that he personally requested and paid for the website which cost “about a thousand dollars.”
Van Meerbergen says that if he didn't sign the cheque or approve it, "then it's not part of the campaign."
Phillips has not yet responded to an interview request from CTV News about the invoice.
Media release 'weaponizes' documents
Blackridge owner Amir Farahi is also calling out Toth for providing the court-ordered released Blackridge documents to the media.
He tells CTV News, "In no way, shape or form, were we under the impression that the courts would then be used, weaponized, for a PR campaign. We thought that when we were providing these documents, that are confidential by nature, that they're provided to the courts, in confidence, for the purpose of taking legal action."
But Toth says that Blackridge had the opportunity to appear in court to ensure limitations on the release of the documents, but chose not to.
"I think we've been very honest and up front this whole time. We've never hid the fact that our intention was accountability and transparency. And for Mr. Farahi now to try to paint transparency and accountability in a negative light is really interesting."