Blog | April 13, 2014

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON—Progressive Conservative candidates must adopt a “gold standard” in election finance disclosure rules because the winner of the leadership race will be the next premier of Alberta, critics say.Advocacy groups and experts urged the governing party to publish donor names and contribution amounts online immediately, so Tories can see who backs each candidate before they cast their first ballot Sept. 6.
Craig Holman, campaign finance lobbyist for the U.S.-based organization Public Citizen, said the gold standard of financial disclosure means the records of all contributions are posted online before the election, in a way that allows stakeholders to analyze them fully.“They need to have pre-election disclosure that is searchable, sortable and downloadable, so that people understand who is financing who,” Holman said. “If it’s just postelection disclosure, that’s useless. It just tells you, after the election, how someone might have been able to buy the election.”It is also important, Holman says, to provide identifying information, including an “occupation code” that allows voters to determine what percentage of contributions come from different sectors, such as energy companies or developers.Larry Booi of Public Interest Alberta called on the governing party to ban union and corporate donations, reduce the maximum contribution limit to $1,200, implement a spending cap for campaigns and institute reasonable disclosure rules.“This current system is a recipe for undue influence for corporate and wealthy individuals,” Booi said. “If they did these four things, the PC party would be sending a very clear message that they are serious about change.“If they don’t, it’s going to send another message: that it will be business as usual.”Booi recalled the controversy surrounding the $430,000 “bulk donation” the Tories received from a company controlled by Edmonton billionaire Daryl Katz in 2012. Though the party and the donor were cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation by the Chief Electoral Officer, Booi said similar political damage could be avoided by adopting stricter contribution rules.“Whoever wins this contest will be our premier,” Booi said. “If it’s a bad set of rules, that will undermine confidence in the new premier.”Officials say the party will abide by Alberta’s new leadership election financing laws and that additional rules are under consideration.“I certainly agree that we have a responsibility to make sure our rules are as open and transparent as we can make them,” Progressive Conservative Association executive director Kelley Charlebois said Friday. “I think that starts with the legislative changes government made after the last election,” he said, adding the leadership committee has adopted some additional rules, but hasn’t finished the discussion.For most of Alberta’s history, political parties set their own rules for financial disclosure in leadership races. As a result, the rules differed from party to party and race to race, and in some cases, leadership candidates never revealed the names of their donors.In 2012, the provincial government for the first time introduced new legislation that set basic rules for party leadership contests. Under the revised Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, candidates must now file financial disclosure records with the Chief Electoral Officer showing how much they received in donations and how much they spent on the campaign.Donations under $275 are reported in aggregate, and donors who contribute more than $275 must provide a name and address. Receipts must be issued in all cases and the records must be made public four months after the conclusion of the race.Drew Westwater, spokesman for Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer, said the new rules were first tested in a leadership vote for the nascent Alberta Party, and will be put to use for a second time when the Tories elect a new leader later this year.“As for our role in the leadership contest, we’re strictly limited to the financial aspect,” Westwater said. “We don’t generally interfere in party matters.”He said the Chief Electoral Officer now has the authority to force leadership candidates to return money if it comes from a prohibited corporation, and can fine the candidate’s financial officer up to $1,000 for failing to file financial records.Charlebois said the party will add at least one additional rule to the new provincial legislation.“The one big gap, in our opinion, is there is no maximum donation,” Charlebois said of the provincial law. “So, as we did in 2011, we’ve adopted a rule that the maximum donation from an individual or corporation has to be $30,000.”© Copyright (c) The Edmonton [email protected] the article at The Edmonton Journal