Political donations ruled illegal

The towns of Rimbey and Sylvan Lake have been identified as making illegal campaign donations in a report posted by Elections Alberta.

The towns of Rimbey and Sylvan Lake have been identified as making illegal campaign donations in a report posted by Elections Alberta.

Sylvan Lake was singled out in the report posted on Friday for making a direct contribution of $640 to the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Progressive Conservative Constituency Association. The town broke rules in September 2010 by waiving the normal rental fee for a facility used for a fundraising function.

Elections Alberta issued a $160 administrative penalty against the town and the constituency association was ordered to repay the $640.

Mayor Susan Samson said the town’s community centre was used free of charge during a fundraising ball tournament for then-MLA Luke Ouellette.

Neither she nor council were aware that the constituency association had not been invoiced.

“Typically these kinds of things are not on the radar for council. You can appreciate that the billing practices of the town are not part of the day-to-day operations of the elected officials. So we were not aware of it.”

Since then, administration at the town has changed and the error will not be repeated, she said.

“Those kinds of irregularities in donations to political parties will never happen and would never have happened under our current administration.”

Samson said she is not aware of any other instances where the PC association was offered rent-free facilities.

In Rimbey’s case, indirect contributions of $850 were made when two tickets to the premier’s fundraising dinner in Edmonton were reimbursed in May 2010. Under Elections Alberta rules, any reimbursement over $25 is considered an indirect contribution.

A $212.50 administrative penalty was issued to the town and the Progressive Conservative Party was ordered to return the contribution.

Political contributions were a hot municipal election issue in Rimbey in 2010.

Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, then a member of the Rimbey Ratepayers Association, claimed the town had covered political contributions totalling about $9,500 between 2006 and 2010 using information accessed under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Legislation.

The money came in the form of reimbursements of fees paid by council members and the town’s former chief administrative officer to attend political events, such as dinners and golf tournaments.

Dale Barr, then-mayor of Rimbey, said at the time money was paid out inadvertently because of an administrative “oversight” and council had not been aware of any violations. Council and the CAO paid back money they felt should not have been reimbursed under election rules.

The controversy led to the resignation of one councillor before the 2010 fall election. Barr and the two other incumbent councillors lost their seats in the vote.

Barr declined to comment further on Friday.

The town’s chief administrative officer also could not be reached for comment.

Anglin, now Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA, said on Friday that the PC party has a long history of soliciting donations from municipal representatives.

“It’s a big problem in Alberta. There’s been a culture of you have to pay to play with the PC party.

“As our own critic said in an interview, this culture of corruption has to stop.”

In all, chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim’s investigation uncovered 45 cases of illegal contributions, all involving either the Tory party or one of its constituency associations.

Total donations were more than $20,000, with the largest contribution coming from the Town of Okotoks at $2,550.

Under the Election Accountability Amendment Act, Fjeldheim could release details of violations only as far back as December 2009, although Opposition parties had called for a full list of infractions dating back to 2004.

Anglin predicted there are further revelations to come.

“I think there will be more to follow on this.”

PC Alberta confirmed last week that it reimbursed the questionable donations, “despite the fact each donation was received from individual donors at the time in full compliance with donation rules and limits.

“To be clear, the PC party did not accept money from prohibited entities,” says Jim McCormick, PCAA president, in a statement. “Rather, the donations in question were all received from individuals, who later sought reimbursement from a prohibited corporation. The PC party had no conceivable way of knowing that would happen, long after we received the personal donations.”