Election commissioner investigating UCP leadership contest donations
Alex Antoneshyn, CTV Edmonton
Published Sunday, January 27, 2019 6:35PM MST
Alberta’s election commissioner is investigating claims that a United Conservative Party leadership campaign was illegally funded, and says someone is pressuring the individuals involved not to cooperate.
Letters from the office, signed by Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, ask recipients to report to the office any attempt of dissuasion of their participation in an investigation of “irregular financial contributions” made to Jeff Callaway’s 2017 campaign.
CTV News obtained copies of the letter sent to two people involved in the investigation. Both wished to remain anonymous.
In October 2017, Callaway pulled out of the UCP leadership contest, throwing his support behind the future winner and current UCP leader, Jason Kenney.
Later, Callaway denied any collaboration between his campaign and Kenney’s, despite allegations from former party members that he was working to derail other leadership candidate campaigns in a bid to help Kenney.
“If you take democracy seriously, you want people to have a fair chance of contesting in elections and in leadership contests,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams.
According to the commissioner, an unnamed person has attempted to “dissuade cooperation with investigators” and “hinder the proper disposition of matters” as the office looks into Callaway’s campaign funding.
Although it’s unclear who is allegedly interfering with the investigation, Williams speculated they are a UCP party member or supporter.
Although the UCP’s participation is unproven, Williams added, “If (the obstruction) can be tied to the party and its leadership or its organization, it's very serious indeed. Even if that direct link can't be made, there's a cumulative effect of some of these stories we've been hearing.”
The UCP has denied all involvement.
Executive Director Janice Harrington said the party is “not aware of the letter in question and cannot speculate on who the supposed unnamed individual referred to within may be."
The statement from the party added, “Neither the Party, the Leader, nor the Leader's leadership campaign have been approached by the Elections Commissioner.”
The allegations of obstruction, if proven, would violate Section 45 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, which mandates no one should hide or destroy documents relevant to an investigation. A guilty conviction could result in two years in prison, or a fine up to $50,000, or both.
This is not the first time the election commissioner has been approached about UCP nominations. In December, failed UCP candidate Tariq Chaudhry said he was promised a party nomination in exchange for $6,000 in memberships and two campaign events totaling $20,000.
With files from Timm Bruch