Volunteer admits paying Blackridge to create fake election website
By Daryl Newcombe, CTV London
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 6:08PM EDT
A bombshell admission solves one of the biggest mysteries involving Blackridge Strategy's involvement in last year's election.
Who was behind the smear campaign that targetted former councillor Virginia Ridley?
CTV News speaks with a campaign volunteer who takes responsibility for the website, but not for the most controversial content.
The website Viriginiaridley.ca was part of a smear campaign against Ridley.
It questioned her spending and position on Bus Rapid Transit, but also suggested it was child abuse when she once brought her son to a budget meeting at city hall.
Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen, who defeated Ridley in Ward 10, told CTV News earlier that he had no participation in the fake website.
Campaign volunteer Barry Phillips told Van Meerbergen on Monday he paid Blackridge Strategy more than $1,000 of his own money for the website. But he insists the child abuse claim was included by Blackridge Strategy without his knowlege or consent.
“That that was not the intent. Basically Blackridge went and put all that stuff on there without my approval and basically just hijacked the platform and put that crap out there,” Phillips says.
CTV News asked Phillips it he questioned Blackridge on why they did that. “No, I did not. I said, ‘I’ve been duped.’”
Earlier this month documents were obtained by Ridley and Coun. Maureen Cassidy showing the websites viriginiaridley.ca and maureencassidy.ca were registered under the name Amir Farahi and a fee was paid with a credit card under the same name.
Farahi is co-owner of political consulting firm Blackridge Strategy, which provided contracted services to Van Meergerben and several other candidates during the campaign period.
Blackridge's news release last week defended the websites as harsh and hurtful but factual.
Van Meergerben was asked if he thinks this warrants a compliance audit of this campaign?
“Well, certainly, someone could argue that. But I am here to say that we did not have any involvement in any way, financially included.”
An update to the Elections Act required so-called third party advertisers to register at city hall, keep financial records and follow rules including identifying the source of funding on advertisements.
None of that was done for the previously anonymous website for Ridley.
“That was not my intent. The intent was BRT-themed factual, not personal website,” Phillips says.
Van Meergerben was also asked if she should resign as the website may have had an impact on the election results.
“Well I would say not. I have no knowlege of this, so I am not sure how you have no knowledge and then be responsible,” he says.
Lawyer Susan Toth represents Ridley and Cassidy. She says her clients are not ready to comment on these new revelations.
CTV News reached out to Blackridge Strategy's Farahi and partner Jake Skinner, but there has been no response.