Caught having accepted 45 prohibited donations from municipalities and publicly-funded institutions since 2009, the Progressive Conservative Association spent the past few days sending mixed messages whether it would or already had repaid the full amount of illegals funds as requested by Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer .
Party officials previously stated the funds would be repaid, but during a conference call to PC constituency presidents last month, executive director Kelley Charlebois laid out laid out plans to not repay the funds.
“Repaying the money does us no good in the court of public opinion” – PC Party executive director Kelley Charlebois
PC Party president Jim McCormick told the Edmonton Journal last week that he felt the orders from the elections office to repay illegal donations were unfair. Mr. McCormick later downplayed his public comments in an email to PC Party supporters in which he stated his party had “fully and willingly complied and repaid the dollars [the Chief Elections Officer] asked us to.”
Mr. McCormick then stated that talks between the PC Party and the elections office would continue and his “argument is not relative to the dollar amount but rather a request for clarification on the legislation.” There is some irony in that some of the prohibited donations were made to now-Justice Minister Jonathan Denis‘ Calgary-Egmont constituency association.
2012 PC campaign manager Susan Elliott jumped to her party’s defence on Facebook, claiming that party officials had no way of knowing that many of the donors were being reimbursed by municipalities or public institutions for money spent at party fundraisers.
I am mystified by the Chief Electoral Officer’s conclusion that a political party is responsible if an individual illegally expenses a political donation to a prohibited organization. So Joe Smith buys a fundraising ticket using a personal cheque or credit card. That’s OK. He collects the tax receipt personally. That’s OK. But later, he submits the cost on his expense claim. He has now done something illegal. The prohibited organization does something illegal by paying it. But how is it the political party is supposed to anticipate Joe’s actions, learn about them later, prevent them or correct them? Since they can do none of those things, why are they the ones cited?
The 45 cases of illegal donations identified in the investigation were all made to the PC Party, not to any of the eight other registered political parties in Alberta.
In some cases Ms. Elliott’s argument may hold water, but in other cases the PC constituency organizers may have directly or indirectly solicited funds from these individuals through their places of employment in municipalities or public institutions.
In one case, which is not being investigated because it took place before the arbitrary 2009 cut-off date set by the elections office, a PC constituency official was actually employed by the organization that the donation was made by. In the former Athabasca-Redwater constituency, the local PC President was the head of the Athabasca University secretariat, which approved the financial contributions.
As was the case with the long list of municipalities that were named in the investigation, they were encouraged to purchase tickets to PC Party fundraisers as a means of lobbying provincial politicians. Over its 42 years in power, the PCs have fostered the creation of a culture where the lines between government business and party business are sometimes blurred.
The elections office is also investigating allegations that pharmaceutical industry billionaire and Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party in the 2012 election, blowing away the $30,000 annual contribution limit stipulated in the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosures Act.