Blog | July 09, 2013

By James Wood and Darcy Henton, Calgary HeraldTory cabinet minister Manmeet Bhullar says he has returned thousands of dollars in political donations from the 2012 provincial election that were at the centre of a complaint to Alberta’s chief electoral officer. Last September, advocacy group Public Interest Alberta alleged that Bhullar had at the least broken the spirit of Alberta’s election finance law by accepting $12,000 in donations from Solo Liquor Stores and its subsidiaries, with six separate stores contributing $2,000 apiece to his Calgary-Greenway campaign.Under provincial rules, there is a $2,000 limit on how much a single person or company can donate to a candidate.Bhullar, the Minister of Service Alberta, said last fall he was confident the contributions did not violate the law because they were separate entities that filed separate tax returns.However, on Monday he said the money had been returned when the complaint was raised.“We returned the money immediately. That was dealt with months ago — the day after the issue came out,” he said outside a meeting of the Progressive Conservative caucus at McDougall Centre.Bhullar said he discovered after receiving the donations that a section of the Income Tax Act links corporate entities, even when they are individually owned with different shareholders.“That particular company’s individuals were not even aware of that and when it was brought to their attention and our attention, we returned the money,” he said.Bhullar did not specify how much was repaid.His campaign’s revised and final financial statement on the Elections Alberta website now shows a single $2,000 donation from one Solo Liquor Store.Drew Westwater, spokesman for Elections Alberta, said the independent agency will only comment on an investigation if it is complete and wrongdoing was found.He said he cannot even confirm whether an investigation into the Bhullar case was launched.But Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said the organization received a letter from Elections Alberta a few months ago that said its lawyers were looking into whether information on the case could be released.Moore-Kilgannon said Elections Alberta must provide a full explanation of the situation because the implications for political donations in the province could be massive.“We were concerned about the principle of allowing a corporation to use its various subsidiaries to be able to go above and beyond what the campaign finance rules allowed,” he said.“So if we have proven that the law says a single corporate entity, even if it has separate legal subsidiaries, are under their corporation, then this is a very important victory.”jwood@calgaryherald.comRead the article at The Calgary Herald.