A former top executive at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) solicited political donations from another college, in what appears to be a direct contravention of the province’s electoral law.

"I am writing on behalf of the 2006 Calgary Premier’s Dinner Committee," Marie Rajic wrote in a Feb. 17, 2006, email to the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD).  "Tables are starting to fill up and we invite you to purchase a table as soon as possible."

Former ACAD president Lance Carlson responded to Rajic, saying he planned to attend and ACAD should probably purchase a table.

At that time, Rajic was the Calgary-based SAIT’s director of government relations. Documents obtained by CBC News show she made the email solicitation using her SAIT account, while she was working at SAIT.

Athabasca University political scientist Jay Smith said this is yet another example of the line being erased between the provincial Conservative party and publicly funded institutions after more than four decades of Tory rule.

"What I see here is really a person who is a public functionary, in terms of working for an institution, doubling up and acting as a functionary for a political party," Smith said, adding that he found the response by ACAD to this fundraising email equally troubling.

"If you look at the reception this email gets from the other institution, it’s not to say, ‘Well, we can’t do that. Are we allowed to do that? Or should we do that?’ They’re talking as if it’s normal. So what we see is a normalization of this culture."

Illegal to make or solicit political donations

It has been illegal in Alberta since 2004 for post-secondary institutions to make – or solicit – political donations.  

In an interview, Rajic said she was aware of the rules, but made a mistake and now regrets sending the email from her work account. 

"I never do stuff like that," she said.  "I always do stuff like that from my personal email account. And I apologize to you, I apologize to SAIT."

Rajic, a well-known Tory supporter and fundraiser, is now an executive at TransCanada Corporation’s Calgary office.  According to her online biography, Rajic was most recently Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most senior political staffer in Alberta.

CBC News obtained Rajic’s solicitation email through a Freedom of Information from ACAD.  The CBC made a similar FOI request to SAIT, but the email was not disclosed.

SAIT did not disclose fundraising email

Dan Allen, SAIT’s director of corporate communications, told CBC in an email that Rajic’s message was not disclosed because email accounts of former SAIT employees are "typically eliminated three months after employees have been replaced." Allen said that is consistent with the provincial record-retention policy.

That explanation however, appears contradicted by the fact that the Alberta College of Art and Design retained Rajic’s email, and all the other emails related to its attendance at Conservative party functions.

Allen also refused CBC’s request to interview SAIT president Irene Lewis.

"We disagree with your assessment that the matter calls into question the integrity, accountability and transparency of SAIT – and therefore requires involvement of the president," Allen wrote.

Calgary Liberal MLA Kent Hehr disagrees.

"They knew, or at least ought to have known, the rules and regulations around that organization funding political organizations," Hehr said.

"And either they totally ignored this and went ahead anyway," he said.  "Or if they didn’t know, it really befuddles me that they weren’t hiring people in this position that actually knew the rules."

Opposition parties file complaints related to ACAD

Opposition politicians have called for two separate investigations into the Alberta College of Art and Design; one by the registrar of lobbyists and a second by the chief electoral officer. This follows a CBC News investigation which revealed the college had spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire two well-connected Tory insiders in an attempt to gain access to more government funding. 

The college hired Tory lobbyist Hal Danchilla. It also hired Calgary lawyer Joe Lougheed, a well-known Tory fundraiser, to conduct unspecified "government relations" work for the college.

Documents obtained by CBC News show Danchilla promised to provide access to then Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock and Rod Love, who was then-premier Ralph Klein’s chief of staff. Invoices submitted by Lougheed to the college show he met with Ron Glen, former premier Ed Stelmach’s chief of staff, and former Tory party president Bill Smith.