Photo: Liberal Party leader David Khan and Liberal MLA David Swann (photo from Facebook)
Political Action Committees will be back up for debate before MLAs depart Edmonton for the Christmas break at the end of next week.
Last week, Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann tabled Bill 214: An Act to Regulate Political Action Committees in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The private members’ bill would amend the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act to create a legal definition for PACs, require PACs to be registered with Elections Alberta and subject them to the same financial disclosure and contribution rules as other political entities. The bill would also ban corporate, union and out-of-province donations, and prohibit political entities from donating to PACs.
“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” Liberal Party leader David Khan said in a Liberal Caucus news release. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”
Khan made PACs one of his top issues after winning the party leadership in June 2017. He is currently running as a candidate in the December 4, 2017 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed.
PACs have become a big issue in Alberta politics since 2015, when the New Democratic Party government banned corporate and union donations to political parties as their first piece of legislation. While that action was needed and widely praised, it unintentionally opened the floodgates for now banned political party donations to be poured into PACs.
Like flowing water, political money will find the path of least resistance.
It did not take long before wealthy donors, now unable to fund political parties, began pouring funds into unregulated PACs, which with the exception of advertising activities, fall outside of Alberta’s political finance laws. The most notable PAC created since the NDP banned corporate political party donations was Jason Kenney‘s Unite Alberta PAC, which supported his campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party and the United Conservative Party.
Swann’s bill defines PACs as “a corporation or group established or maintained for the primary purpose of accepting political action contributions and incurring political action expenses to engage in political promotion but does not include (i) a registered party, or (ii) a registered constituency association.”
And under the bill, a PAC must apply for registration with Elections Alberta when it has incurred expenses of $1000 or plans to incur political action expenses of at least $1000, or when it has accepted contributions of $1000 or plans to accept contributions of at least $1000.
The Order Paper for Monday, December 4, 2017 shows that Labour Minister Christina Gray, who is also responsible for democratic reform, is scheduled to introduce Bill 32: An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta for first reading. Gray has said the government would introduce legislation regulating PACs, and if this bill does that, it will likely remove Swann’s bill off the Order Paper because of its similar focus.
We will have to wait until Gray’s Bill 32 is tabled before we know what action the NDP government plans to take, but even if their bill is removed from the order papers, Swann and Khan deserve the credit for making unregulated and unaccountable Political Action Committees an issue in Alberta politics.