Exclusive: Blackridge Strategy's Farahi speaks on smear websites, lobbying
Published Thursday, July 25, 2019 7:28PM EDT
Blackridge Strategy's Amir Farahi is breaking his silence on the company's actions during last year's municipal election only to CTV News.
Farahi is co-owner of the political consulting firm that’s been embroiled in controversy since a court-ordered release of documents showed he registered a pair of websites that attacked incumbent councillors Virginia Ridley and Maureen Cassidy during the 2018 election.
After fiercely denying any role in the websites last November to CTV News, on Thursday Farahi admitted, "The answer is Blackridge Strategy created the websites, and that’s about it.”
The sites contained references to Cassidy’s affair with then mayor Matt Brown and accused Ridley of “child abuse” for bringing her son to a budget meeting at city hall.
But Farahi is unapologetic, "The website itself had no bearing, I don’t think, personally, on the decision of Ward 10 residents to not elect Ms. Ridley.”
The websites were eventually transferred to the name 'Ronald Young,' but attempts to locate him were unsuccessful.
When asked if Ronald Young was a fictitious name, "What I can tell you is that Ronald Young, whoever Ronald Young is, doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have a conversation in this city about issues affecting property taxpayers and the broader community.”
Also in 2018, Blackridge Strategy was hired by the Middlesex-London Health Unit to advocate for provincial funding for supervised drug consumption, but there was no record that Blackridge Strategy reported its actions on the provincial lobbyist registry.
Farahi claims it was a technical glitch, "As part of an online system there could be glitches and technical difficulties. We’ve had the technical difficulties and glitches. We’ve communicated extensively with the office to fix them.”
Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen, who defeated Ridley in Ward 10, employed Blackridge to manage his campaign website and Facebook page during the campaign.
He told CTV News in June that his campaign volunteer Barry Phillips admitted to using personal money to pay Blackridge Strategy for a website pointing out Ridley’s voting record on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
Phillips claims Blackridge “hijacked” the website by adding an allegation of child abuse.
Farahi's response? “Anything that involves our conversations between Blackridge and Barry Phillips is something I can’t speak to you about because of the advice of my legal counsel.”
Several times Farahi explained he received legal advice not to discuss specific clients and contracts.
He adds the city should move on and talk about more pressing issues like the housing crisis and opioid crisis, "I think the whole website issue that we’ve been talking about the whole month is a complete distraction. And why it’s a distraction is because in London we are dealing with all kinds of crises.”
A complaint has been filed by Councillor Stephen Turner with city hall’s Compliance Audit Committee asking if Blackridge Strategy, Farahi and Phillips violated the Municipal Elections Act - which requires third-party advertisers to register at city hall, provide financial records and follow election rules.
Farahi says Blackridge did not need to register.
"I was in conversations with many people who approached the city clerk’s department who said, if we were to focus on the issues only, in other words, if we were to just talk about BRT as an issue, we didn’t talk about any candidates, do we need to register as a third party? And she said no, actually you’d be ineligible. There is no reason why you would do that.”