Some cases of illegal campaign donations made over the past three years in Alberta will finally be made public Thursday as part of the provincial government’s effort to make political financing more transparent.
Until now, the detailed results of Elections Alberta investigations have been kept secret by law. The names of the parties and donors involved in any wrongdoing have been hidden by the independent agency, which was restricted by legislation to release only in general terms when cases had closed and whether any penalties had been imposed.
However, some cases involving donations “prohibited corporations” such as municipalities, school division or postsecondary institutions did become public recently related to the Progressive Conservative Party, which has governed the province since 1971.
The Tories have said publicly that money has already been returned to a number of contributors, however, officials declined comment on the upcoming release by Elections Alberta of infractions, which date back to Dec. 10, 2009. It’s unclear how many cases that will include.
As of last July, Elections Alberta said it has 81 cases on the go. Of those 57 had problems, resulting in either money being returned or chief electoral officer pursuing a fine.
The three opposition parties the legislature said Wednesday that they don’t expect to be implicated in any of the past cases of illegal donations, suggesting the PCS would be the focus of the document release.
Wildrose Party MLA Shayne Saskiw said neither his party nor any constituency association has been contacted by Elections Alberta. Gerald McEachern, executive director of the Alberta Liberal Party, and Brian Stokes, provincial secretary for the Alberta NDP, each said they’d received no notice from Elections Alberta.
Separately, the Wildrose Party has written to chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim asking for a review of PC Party fundraising connected to last spring’s provincial election. The party’s concerns focus on leader’s dinners held in Calgary and Edmonton with tickets sales of about $1.2-million in May, 2012, a month after the April 23 election. It argues those proceeds should be declared as part of the party’s campaign fundraising under the legislation which covers 60 days post-election.
Mr. Fjeldheim said he hasn’t seen the letter, but will look into the matter. “Obviously that was in that time period, having said that, it’s up to the party to decide where they wish to put that money,” he said.
Kelley Charlebois, executive director of the PC Party, said Elections Alberta has never raised concerns in the past about its audited accounting of leader’s dinners in this fashion – even during an election period. The funds they generated will be included in the party’s annual financial disclosure, which is due in April, he said.
The Chief Electoral Officer’s office is busy with several investigations, including one into a donation by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz and another, requested by an advocacy group called Public Interest Alberta, into a case where a corporation used subsidiaries to make several donations, to a PC candidate, that cumulatively exceeded the limit.
The release of documents is a good first step for the province, said PIA Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon. “It’s useless to have this legislation without it going public, because how can candidates know what the nuances of the rules actually are if it’s never going to be made public?” he said.