Lessons learned after illegal donations brought to light

Some of the communities singled out for making illegal donations to the PC Party say those issues have been dealt with at their end. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said last week that the Progressive Conservative Party accepted more than $102,000 between 2004 and 2010 from taxpayer-funded municipalities, school boards and post-secondary institutions.

Some of the communities singled out for making illegal donations to the PC Party say those issues have been dealt with at their end.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said last week that the Progressive Conservative Party accepted more than $102,000 between 2004 and 2010 from taxpayer-funded municipalities, school boards and post-secondary institutions.

Smith called on the PCs to pay the money back.

Olds was identified by Wildrose as contributing $500 to the PC Association of Alberta, in two payments of $250, in October 2009 and September 2010.

Town chief administrative officer Norm McInnis said on Friday those payments were unearthed last year following a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request.

The information was passed on to the person who made the request and council followed up in May 2012 by passing a policy prohibiting donations to a political party, constituency association or candidate.

Wildrose also identified $1,967.68 in illegal donations from the Town of Sylvan Lake made between June 2007 and November 2009.

Those were unearthed and reported to Elections Alberta after it sent a letter to all municipalities to check their books for illegal donations after receiving numerous complaints.

Sylvan Lake reported its findings to Elections Alberta and was levied a fine of $369.42, which was paid in July 2012, said communications officer Joanne Gaudet.

Neither the payments nor the fine were made public at the time. However, some of the information came to light in a report Elections Alberta posted on its website in February 2013.

The report said Sylvan Lake improperly contributed $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.

Under the Election Accountability Amendment Act, the chief electoral officer said he could release details of violations only as far back as December 2009, although opposition parties called for a full list of infractions dating back to 2004.

Gaudet said processes are in place to ensure that all donations meet provincial rules.

“Current staff and council are all very well versed in the Disclosure Act and feel confident issues like that of the past will not repeat themselves,” she said.

Wildrose highlighted Rimbey as the biggest illegal contributor to the PC Party with $12,430 in donations between February 2005 and August 2010.

That number is bigger than the $9,500 in alleged donations uncovered in a Freedom of Information request in 2010.

The money was reimbursed to the mayor and council members for attending events such as the premier’s dinner. Council agreed to pay any improper reimbursements back, although a final figure has not been released.

The town was not able to provide more details on the discrepancy and what was previously paid back on Friday.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin was behind the uncovering of the expenses years ago and he believes the message got out to municipalities.

He gives the mayor and council of Rimbey credit for returning money.

Anglin doubts any municipalities are making the same mistakes now.

“I’m pretty sure that nonsense has come to a close since I first exposed it. I think we woke up a few people,” said Anglin.

Before the donations were brought to light, many communities treated it as standard procedure.

County of Stettler is identified by Wildrose as making $6,540 in illegal donations. Those came to light in 2013 following a Freedom of Information request. In reviewing documents dating back nearly a decade, the county found that $3,440 was paid out to councillors to attend “politically associated” events and another $3,100 was reimbursed to staff.

Other Central Alberta communities highlighted by Wildrose include:

l Three Hills — $105, PC golf tour/dinner, May 2007; $150, lunch, June 2006.

l Town of Stettler — $150, MLA fundraiser, July 2008; $150, MLA fundraiser, June 2009; $175, MLA fundraiser, July 2010.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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