05/16/2013 05:39 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Mike Duffy's Salary, Benefits Don't Paint A Picture Of A Man Down On His Luck

OTTAWA - The Conservatives say Nigel Wright's controversial gift of $90,000 to Sen. Mike Duffy was an act of compassion by the prime minister's chief of staff, intended to help a man under financial pressure and down on his luck.

But was he? And if so, why?

Duffy isn't speaking to reporters these days, so details aren't forthcoming. But his history as a prominent TV journalist, senator and public speaker paints a picture of a man who collected a six-figure salary for decades.

The Duffy controversy erupted again Wednesday when the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Wright cut the Conservative senator a personal cheque to cover more than $90,000 in improperly claimed housing expenses — money Duffy could not repay in a "timely manner," the PMO said.

Public records show Duffy, who has never filed for bankruptcy, currently earns an annual salary of $132,300 as a senator. He has earned roughly the same amount for the past four years.

A list of Senate pension benefits indicates that Duffy's spouse would be paid two years worth of his salary in the event of his death. Senators are also able to buy into additional life insurance.

The Senate pension is calculated on the basis of a senator's best five years of salary, and accrues with each year he or she sits in the upper chamber at a rate of three per cent. If Duffy sits until he is 75, he would earn approximately $51,480 based on 39 per cent of a salary of $132,000 in today's dollars. The pensions are also indexed.

Duffy, who has worked as a journalist with both CBC and CTV, would also presumably have access to pension benefits from CBC as well.

Duffy is still the principal in his own company, Mike Duffy Media Services Inc., registered out of his home, to manage his frequent speaking engagements. Such speeches by Ottawa personalities at association meetings and conferences can be worth thousands of dollars each.

Duffy's hefty mortgage on his home in Kanata, Ont., a suburb of Ottawa, is often cited as proof he is strapped for cash. Duffy took out the $360,000 mortgage in April 2010. The assessed value of his home is $482,000, according to a provincial body.

The senator also owns a cottage-type property in Cavendish, P.E.I., which he said he purchased 15 years ago. It is unclear how much it's worth, but he has said publicly he spent $100,000 on winterizing it.

In 2011, both Duffy and his wife Heather each donated $1,100 to the Conservative party. In 2010, Heather Duffy gave a Tory association in P.E.I. $580.

Duffy's precise salary during the years he hosted a political show on CTV is not public, but network sources — speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter — say it was more than $200,000 a year.

Tax Court documents from the early 1990s also indicate Duffy was making six figures while working for Baton Broadcasting, the former parent company of CTV. The firm paid him between $140,000-$153,000 over the three-year period discussed in his tax court case, including thousands for a clothing allowance and something called a "talent fee."

Duffy did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Duffy and fellow senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb are embroiled in a controversy over housing expenses they claimed for primary residences outside of Ottawa.

Based on an independent audit of their expenses, the Senate has decided they did not actually live outside the Ottawa area, as required by the rules for claiming the housing allowance.

Harb, who has quit the Liberal caucus, was ordered to repay $51,500; Brazeau — who was kicked out of the Conservative caucus after being charged in February with assault and sexual assault — has been asked for $49,000. Both are refusing to comply.

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