Blog | April 06, 2011

Alberta PC party unveils new rules for race to replace Stelmach

By Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journal

(an abridged version of this piece also ran in the Calgary Herald)The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has introduced new campaign financing rules for the leadership race to replace Premier Ed Stelmach.Candidates will have to kick in a higher entry fee and reveal some donors."It's just another step toward us as a party being as open and transparent as we can about how we do things," PC party president Bill Smith said Tuesday. "We feel this is the right thing to do for our party."Until now, the party had no legislation to guide fundraising during leadership races.Larry Booi, chairman of Public Interest Alberta, a left-of-centre non-profit advocacy organization, said the new rules fail to protect democracy and let the rich unfairly influence the outcome.While single donations are now capped at $30,000 for Tory leadership campaigns, that's far higher than the $1,100 federal limit, Booi said. National campaigns also prevent unions or corporations from throwing in cash, but that's not the case provincially."This is still a free-for-all where money will talk and it will speak very, very loudly," Booi saidHe was also concerned there are no rules to guide or limit spending.The new rules will require Doug Griffiths, Alison Redford, Doug Horner, Ted Morton, Gary Mar and any other potential Progressive Conservative leaders to find $40,000 instead of the previous $15,000 fee to enter the race. They will also have to disclose the names of every individual or corporation which donates $375 or more to their campaigns. People like Morton and Stelmach refused to release the names of all their financial backers in the last leadership contest because donors hadn't agreed to have their names made public.The new rules are based on similar ones in the Alberta Elections Act, Smith said. Leadership hopefuls have to disclose their donors after the vote, expected later this year, rather than during the race, which could unfairly burden party volunteers, he said.The candidates will also receive $15,000 back out of their $40,000 fee -in essence, a security deposit that gives teeth to the new rules -as long as they provide audited financial records, Smith said.The remaining $25,000 will go toward printing ballots, renting at least 83 voting locations in the 83 constituencies, buying sandwiches and coffee for volunteers and making sure data are entered correctly with each membership sold."It's very expensive for us a party to run these campaigns and the party bears a significant cost from doing it," Smith said, adding the last leadership race in 2006 cost almost $750,000.Griffiths, MLA for Battle RiverWainwright and one of five people currently running to take Stelmach's jobs, said he plans to reveal every contribution on an ongoing basis, even those under $100."I want people to know where we're raising money," said Griffiths, whose campaign contributions have largely been between $50 and $100, with a few donating $1,000. "People know up front whether significant contributions are coming from certain parties before they have to go and vote so they understand where candidates loyalties are."So far, the race has been slow, because of the federal election and the fact that Stelmach hasn't announced when he'll step down. "Nobody wants to put policy out there because all it would then really be would be fodder for the opposition to generate headlines, so it wouldn't do any good," Griffiths said.While the $40,000 entrance fee sounds high, Griffiths said: "Quite frankly, if I can't raise the money, then I'm not a credible candidate."By Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journaljsinnema@edmontonjournal.com

This article was published in Vue Weekly on April 1, 2010. Read the full article on the Vue Weekly website.