Alberta elections officer gets power to out illegal political donors, recipients

By Dean Bennett | Nov 20, 2012 6:25 pm | 0 Comments

EDMONTON – Legislation tabled in the Alberta legislature would give the chief electoral officer power to publicly divulge the names of those who give and those who get illegal political donations.

The Election Accountability Amendment Act would also allow the elections officer to divulge specifics of an offence and detail the penalty imposed.

“The bill goes a long way towards ensuring that Alberta’s electoral system remains both accountable and responsive,” Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said Tuesday.

It addresses a core disagreement between current officer, Brian Fjeldheim, and Premier Alison Redford’s government over the interpretation of the disclosure law as it now stands.

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 The Tories said Fjeldheim already had the power to name names, but he said he didn’t.

Denis said that has now been fixed.

“This (bill) reflects the true intent of the (original) legislation,” he said.

The act is intended to clear up other concerns over public disclosure.

The Tories have been dogged in the past year by cases of improper donations to their party from government-funded municipalities, schools, colleges and universities.

The criticisms struck close to home for the premier Monday when it was revealed her sister, Lynn Redford, was reimbursed more than $3,000 by taxpayers to attend and hold PC party events while she worked for the Calgary Health Region.

Overall, Fjeldheim has opened up more than 81 files in the last year. Three weeks ago, he began investigating allegations that billionaire Daryl Katz contributed $430,000 to the Tory campaign in the spring election — well over the $30,000 individual maximum.

PC Party officials have not commented on the specifics of the Katz donations, but say there is no evidence that anyone contributed more than the maximum.

Fjeldheim must release his findings to Katz and to the Tories. Redford has said she will make the findings publicly available.

The new law would also allow Fjeldheim the one-time opportunity to publicly report on findings dating back three years.

NDP Leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said that doesn’t go far enough, especially given that Lynn Redford’s PC donations began in 2005 and ended in 2008.

“What we were looking for in this legislation was a clear intent to allow the chief electoral officer to go back and investigate all the incidents of illegal donations,” said Smith.

“This looks to me like they’re limiting it to cover up.”

Mason said: “It was designed to protect the Progressive Conservative Party’s position, and to protect the premier and others who have not, in our view, allowed the truth to come out with respect to illegal donations.”

Other noteworthy aspects of the legislation include:

— Fines for breaches would increase from a maximum $1,000 to a maximum $10,000.

— The act would not apply just to general elections, but also to party leadership contests.

— The maximum individual contribution remains at $30,000.

— There is no overall limit to party fundraising and spending.

— Anyone donating less than $250 to a party would not have his or her name made public; that’s down from $375.

— Donor information would be made public quarterly on the Elections Alberta website rather than once a year, as is the case now.

Alberta Liberal critic Laurie Blakeman said the $30,000 limit for unions and corporations is still too high.

“It’s same old, same old,” said Blakeman.

“People don’t want to see a government that is going to allow legislation that allows people to buy an election or to buy legislation that suits them.”

The act also incorporates previously announced changes to municipal voting rules. Post-secondary students who have left home to study would be able to vote at home or in the district where their school is located.

As outlined previously by Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, local politicians are to serve for four years rather than three, starting with elections in 2013.

The proposed law would require voters to produce identification for municipal contests. It also mandates that if an incumbent candidate decides not to run again, any surplus campaign funds in his or her account are given to the municipality or to charity.