The Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a connected Conservative lawyer and a lobbyist to gain access to government ministers, senior staff and a party official in what appears to be an attempt to increase its funding.
Documents obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information show the 1,200-student college paid Tory insider and lawyer Joe Lougheed more than $5,000 a month for two years for unspecified "government relations." The college also spent nearly $5,000 a month for six months on the services of well-known Tory lobbyist Hal Danchilla.
Lougheed billed the college for meetings with: Ron Glen, then Premier Ed Stelmach’s chief of staff; Ken Faulkner, director of Stelmach’s Calgary office; Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett; and provincial PC party president Bill Smith.
The documents also show Lougheed, through his firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, offered the college thousands of dollars worth of free tickets to Tory fundraising events. Critics say this practice could effectively enable the college to circumvent a provincial law which bans post-secondary institutions from making political donations.
CBC News also obtained the lobbying contract between the college and Danchilla. It shows Danchilla intended to exploit his close relationship with Rod Love, who was then Premier Ralph Klein’s chief of staff, and his relationships with incoming Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock, other ministers and various senior bureaucrats.
Lougheed declined an interview request through a Toronto communications firm. Danchilla did not respond to several interview requests.
College denies it tried to buy access
In an interview, Daniel Doz, the college’s current president, denied it hired Lougheed and Danchilla to buy access to the government in an attempt to increase its funding. But he conceded the Tory insiders provided expedited access.
"If you do everything on your own, 10 years from now, you will have moved forward," Doz said. "But you know, things move much faster, especially when the government changes so fast. So it facilitates (access) and it makes it more rapid. I mean, it’s really as simple as that."
But former college president Lance Carlson contradicted Doz, telling CBC News he hired Lougheed to help the college raise money.
"I think Joe Lougheed is the thread in the fabric that made us successful," Carlson said in a phone interview from his home in California. "We raised a lot of money, and by raising money I mean not just from private donors but we also raised a lot from government. We had the greatest fundraising success, during my six years there, in the history of the college."
Doz said the college ended its government relations contract with Lougheed and will not be renewing it. Carlson said he did not renew the contract with Danchilla.
"I viewed Hal’s engagement as a way for me to understand how government funding mechanisms work," Carlson said. "That was the intention of signing that contract with him but of course we didn’t continue it because I was educated pretty fast on how things go in Alberta.``
Critics question need to hire lobbyist, consultant
Critics say the fact the college felt it needed to pay connected Conservatives to get funding from the government exemplifies everything that is wrong with the political culture in the province.
"This is just the continuation of a pattern, of a culture where the government has made it apparent that you actually have to either make donations to the PC party to gain access, or hobnob with PC insiders," Wildrose MLA Shane Saskiw said, referring to an ongoing CBC News investigation that has so far uncovered widespread illegal donations to the Tory party by municipalities, post-secondary institutions and other publicly-funded entities banned by law from making such donations.
During question period in the legislature Tuesday, both Saskiw and New Democrat Leader Brian Mason raised the issue, prompting a testy response from Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.
"If the MLA for Edmonton Norwood Highlands (Mason) has an issue or has some inside information, I suggest he report it to the ethics commissioner who will actually go and look into it," Denis said.
"The ethics commissioner doesn't report to me. He doesn't report to the premier. He doesn't report to anyone here but this whole house."
On Tuesday, Mason sent a letter to Brian Fjeldheim, Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, asking him to investigate the donations.
"Political fundraising a matter of great importance in Alberta, as it raises questions as to both the integrity of both our legislation and our democracy," Mason wrote in the letter.
Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation found it "strange" that a publicly-funded institution would feel it necessary to hire politically-connected insiders to get funding.
"You should have a relationship with the people that are giving you money," Hennig said. "You shouldn’t have to hire a lobbyist to go and get you the money that you’re supposed to be getting."
"When students pay their tuition fees," Hennig said, "I don’t think they’re expecting it is going to pay lobbyists to lobby the province on their behalf."
Wildrose to file complaint with lobbyist registrar
Hennig said he believed Lougheed’s work on behalf of the university constituted lobbying.
Lougheed, however, is not registered as a lobbyist with the Alberta lobbyist registrar.
Without knowing what Lougheed was discussing with the government officials, it is not possible to determine if he should have been registered.
Both Doz and Carlson said they don’t know what Lougheed was discussing with the officials, or why he met with them.
Saskiw said Wildrose would be asking the registrar to conduct an investigation.
"If he is lobbying on behalf of an institution, one would think he would have to make that public," Saskiw said. "He would also have to make public which particular individuals he is meeting with, and which ministries. So that is a serious concern for us."
This will be the second investigation faced by Lougheed.
Tory insider under investigation
He is currently under investigation by Alberta’s chief electoral officer, following a CBC News investigation which revealed Lougheed was providing the University of Calgary with tickets to Tory fundraisers and then billing the university for hours of legal work he did not perform.
The practice only ended after the university’s general counsel, Charlene Anderson, confronted Lougheed. In a subsequent letter to the university, Lougheed said his emails, which detailed the practice, had been poorly worded and he denied wrongly billing the university.
Saskiw said he believes the most recent documents obtained by CBC News reveal another example of public money being indirectly funneled to the Tory party, potentially circumventing the law banning political donations by publicly funded institutions.
Carlson and Doz insist no public money was ever used for political purposes.
They do not believe that any of the $5,000 monthly retainer paid to Lougheed would have been used to pay for tickets to Tory fundraising events. However, one invoice, dated April 30, 2011, states part of the $5,251 retainer was for the "Calgary Premier’s Dinner." Doz and another college official attended the dinner.
An internal college email shows Lougheed’s law firm, Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC), offered free tickets to that premier’s fundraising dinner.
"Daniel, FMC has a table for the premier’s dinner on April 14," Lougheed wrote. " I have nine tickets free and would first like to offer them to ACAD senior administration and board members. It is always a useful event to have a presence as over 1,200 key government and community decision members are there."
Doz was asked if he thought Loughheed, and Fraser Milner Casgrain, offered the tickets to his college for free out of the goodness of their hearts.
"You would have to ask them," he replied.