Judge scraps Alberta election commissioner fine for exceeding donation limit
Decision could have impact on 37 appeals currently before the courts
Citing procedural fairness, an Alberta judge has rescinded a $10,000 fine levied by the province's election commissioner against a man who exceeded the legal political donation limit.
In 2018, Glen Rumpel donated $9,000 to the United Conservative Party, exceeding the maximum donation of $4,000 that was established in 2016.
The $5,000 over the limit was returned by the party as required by law. Rumpel claimed he was unaware of the newer donation limits.
The election commissioner had handed down the biggest financial penalty possible for a single offence.
Rumpel appealed the fine and on Thursday a judge scrapped it.
In her decision, Justice Corina Dario said the commissioner failed to provide adequate notice of the offence to Rumpel and did not provide adequate opportunity for him to respond to the findings.
The commissioner's notice gave Rumpel 15 days from delivery to respond, but Rumpel was out of town during that time and was unable to respond.
Further, Rumpel told the court that when he arrived back in Calgary, he attempted to contact the commissioner's office without success.
Dario found the 15-day period was too short and recommended increasing the timeframe to 60 days.
The judge also noted the commissioner said it didn't matter what Rumpel had to say, it would not affect the findings or the amount of the fine.
"In this case, adequate notice of the allegations against the contributor and the opportunity to present a response is an important aspect of being treated fairly by administrative decision-makers and should not be breached lightly," reads the ruling.
Amount of fine
While the judge noted this alone was enough to throw out the fine, she went further and examined the amount of the fine as well.
Dario said the commissioner's statement, that the fine is always double the amount that was over-contributed up to a maximum of $10,000, was not a reasonable argument.
Due to the lack of procedural fairness, the judge not only eliminated the fine against Rumpel, but ruled he should not receive a letter of reprimand and his name should be removed from the commissioner's website.
The ruling could have an impact on 37 appeals against Alberta election commissioner findings currently working their way through the courts, the most well-known being those issued in relation to the "kamikaze" UCP leadership campaign of Jeff Callaway.
Callaway himself accounts for 24 of those appeals, for fines tied to allegations he funnelled banned corporate cash into his leadership campaign using straw donors.
In total, Callaway faces $70,000 in penalties.
Callaway ran a "kamikaze" campaign on behalf of Jason Kenney, now Alberta's premier. Kenney won the UCP leadership on Oct. 28, 2017, after the Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties merged.
Callaway ran for the sole purpose of targeting Kenney's chief rival, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, and then dropping out of the race to support Kenney.
Both men deny the allegations, but CBC News has obtained emails showing higher-ups in Kenney's campaign circle provided resources — strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos and attack advertisements — to the Callaway campaign.
Findings from the election commissioner allege Callaway accepted $60,000 from Calgary businessman Robyn Lore in order to keep his campaign afoat during the 2017 leadership race, and distributed that cash through individuals who agreed to put their names on donation forms without providing any money of their own.
Elections Alberta, which is now responsible for the duties of the election commissioner after the UCP government scrapped the independent office last month, issued a statement when asked about the impact of the ruling.
"We are reviewing the decision of Honourable Madam Justice C. Dario and will ensure that our office maintains administrative and procedural fairness in the cases that we investigate," wrote spokesperson Pamela Renwick.
"This decision is in alignment with the current policies of Elections Alberta and all future decisions made by the Election Commissioner, Glen Resler, will comply with the requirements of the legislation for providing notice and for reviewing the necessary factors to determine the amounts for administrative penalty."