Elections Alberta donation investigation uncovers dozens of illegal donations
Published Thursday, January 31, 2013 4:42PM MST Last Updated Thursday, January 31, 2013 7:05PM MST
Findings from an investigation by Elections Alberta into illegal donations released this week revealed dozens of illegal donations, and all of them involved the Progressive Conservative party.
According to documents posted on the Elections Alberta website, a total of 45 illegal donations were made to the Progressive Conservative party between March 2010 and November 2011.
All of the donations in question ranged from $75 to $2,550.
“I have asked the parties and constituency association to return that money,” Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim said.
The PCAA issued a press release Thursday, confirming it had complied with reimbursement requirements – repaying donations totalling $17,655. In addition, the separate constituencies had also repaid illegal donations made directly to them.
In addition to the party returning the money, Elections Alberta has also fined all of the institutions that gave the money in the first place – the fines range from $18 to $850.
In documents posted online, the donations were categorized under direct and indirect donations, direct referred to donations made by prohibited corporations – such as counties, towns, colleges and school divisions.
Indirect donations referred to donations made by individuals that are later reimbursed by prohibited corporations.
A number of the illegal donations were returned, the documents state, however, administrative penalties were attached to each of the items – and Elections Alberta said they had all been received.
Of the total number of incidents, 10 donations were earmarked for the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta – while the rest went directly to seventeen specific PCAA constituency associations.
However, PCAA officials said each donation in question was received from individual donors at the time, which they said was in full compliance with donation rules and limits – and the PCAA had no way of knowing that for five of the 10 donations that were found to be illegal, those individuals would seek reimbursement from the prohibited corporations.
The PCAA went on to question Elections Alberta’s stance on mandatory repayment of personal donations; the association said were received in good faith and complied with donation rules.
“You accept a cheque from Jane Smith who shows up at a dinner or other fundraiser,” PC MLA and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said. “But three days later, Jane goes back to her employer who may be a college or municipality and says ‘Please reimburse me for that expense’.”
Fjeldheim said he understands the issues, but believes the system should be as transparent as possible.
“I’m not saying that the party or constituency has done anything wrong, but in the interest of openness and transparency of the legislation, I believe it is appropriate that that money be returned,” Fjeldheim said.
The association said in a number of the cases, PC records don’t show that donors would end up expensing their contribution – and the party is in talks with Elections Alberta, to clarify the party’s responsibility in cases where personal donations have been expensed.
“If we could get some sort of process involved where we get them to sign a declaration, I guess that they’re doing this donation as an individual, maybe that’s where we’re going to have to go,” Finance Minister Doug Horner said.
“The associations of members of cabinet should know better,” Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said. “They should be beyond reproach.”
Oppositon leaders stood by the Elections Alberta policy.
“There is a continuing attitude on the part of the Progressive Conservatives that this is the donor’s fault,” NDP Leader Brian Mason said. “In my view, the onus must be on the receiving political party as the one with the knowledge and the one that stands to benefit to refuse illegal donations.”
Aside from the donations outlined in the documents, Elections Alberta is still investigating another high-profile political donation of $430,000 made by Daryl Katz and a number of his associates and family to the PCs during the last election.
There’s no timeline for the end of that investigation, which started in Oct. 2012.
With files from Amanda Anderson