MONTREAL - A star witness at Quebec's corruption inquiry says illegal fundraising was commonplace in the province's politics and it occurred under various political parties.
Former construction boss Lino Zambito is testifying that he funnelled $88,000 over the last decade to all Quebec political parties through third parties — notably through family, friends and employees.
Zambito says the practice helped parties circumvent the province's donation limit — which was $3,000.
In one case he says he turned over $30,000 — 10 times the legal donation limit at the time — at the request of a prominent provincial Liberal fundraiser who was the spouse of a minister. Smaller amounts were given to the Parti Quebecois and the now-defunct ADQ.
Zambito says he later reimbursed people who made the donations. On the witness stand, Zambito expressed remorse for putting his friends and family in an embarrassing position.
In a dramatic moment of testimony, Zambito also condemned a broken system that he said put unfair pressure on politicians to raise money and on the people in the construction industry to deliver it.
Zambito says the system revolved, at the provincial level, around engineering firms.
He says these large companies were intimately involved with political parties and they constantly solicited construction bosses for money.
He says there are two ways to fix the fundraising system: Increase the public subsidy for political parties, or increase the donation limited.
Otherwise, he says, a black market will inevitably develop. He says political parties are desperate for cash to finance their campaigns, and without sufficient fundraising channels they will be tempted to resort to illict means to get it.
Zambito is beginning his sixth day of testimony which has touched on a wide range of topics.
At the municipal level he has described a cartel-like structure that colluded to pick who would win public construction contracts.
He says the system included bribes for municipal officials, kickbacks to certain political parties, and a percentage claimed by the Italian Mafia.
None of Zambito's allegations have been proven in court and some of his allegations have been met with denials of any wrongdoing.