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Former UCP leadership candidate's campaign manager fined $15K for obstructing investigation

The campaign manager for former UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has been fined $15,000 by Alberta's election commissioner for obstruction of an investigation.

Alberta's election commissioner is looking into allegations of irregular financial contributions

Jeff Callaway ran for the leadership of the United Conservative Party in 2017. Now his campaign manager has been fined for obstruction of an investigation into irregular financial contributions. (CBC)

The campaign manager for former UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has been fined $15,000 by Alberta's election commissioner for obstruction of an investigation.

Co-campaign manager Cameron Davies was issued two $7,500 penalties Tuesday.

The penalties do not provide further details of what the offences are under the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. 

The section of the act in question reads, "No person shall obstruct any person carrying out an inquiry, investigation or examination under this Act or withhold from that person or conceal or destroy any books, papers, documents or things relevant to the subject-matter of the investigation or examination."

Davies to appeal decision

Davies directed CBC News to his lawyer Dale Fedorchuk, who said he and Davies take issue with the findings and will be appealing the decision to the Court of Queen's Bench. 

"I note that the findings of the commissioner were not based upon a hearing, where oral evidence was presented and findings of fact made. It is important that the public not make any conclusions or draw any inferences from the commissioner's decision until this matter has been heard by the court.

The timing of this, as far as I'm concerned, is quite suspect.- Dale Fedorchuk, lawyer for Cameron Davies

"Mr. Davies specifically denies the allegations brought against him and will vigorously defend this matter going forward," Fedorchuk wrote in an emailed statement.

He told CBC News he doesn't know what investigation the fines are tied to and says his client hasn't been provided with any evidence related to the findings.

Alberta's Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson said he's required to publish any findings where a letter of reprimand is issued or an administrative penalty levied.

"The information published on my website respects the strict confidentiality requirements I am required to abide by. There will be no further information published on my website about these particular offences," Gibson said.

Investigation into irregular financial contributions

Alberta's election commissioner is investigating allegations of irregular financial contributions made to Callaway's campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

In January, CBC News received copies of letters the election commissioner sent to two individuals confirming the formal investigation.

"It has come to the attention of my office that an individual has been contacting, or attempting to contact, one or more persons who are subjects in this investigation in order to dissuade co-operation with investigators and hinder the proper disposition of matters in order to avoid these proceedings," writes Gibson.

He does not name the individual in question.

"If you have been contacted by any person who has, or has attempted to, influence your participation in this investigation, it is very important that you bring this information to the attention of my office immediately."

UCP executive director Janice Harrington said at the time the party was not aware of the letter, and was not aware of anyone pressuring people not to participate in an investigation.

"The Party would not and has not discouraged any individual from cooperating with the Election Commissioner as legally required," Harrington said.

UCP cuts ties with Davies

The UCP Caucus said since November, Davies has been working as an independent contractor with the party to provide policy research. The UCP said they contacted Davies in late January regarding media reports about Callaway's campaign, and Davies said he was not the subject of any investigation.

Now, the UCP said Davies' contractor agreement has been terminated.

"At no time has the Elections Commissioner contacted the UCP, the UCP Caucus, the Leader's Office, nor the Leader's previous Leadership Campaign," the party said in an emailed statement.

Dale Fedorchuk, lawyer for Cameron Davies, says he's concerned by the timing of the penalties against his client. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Fedorchuk, Davies' lawyer, said the fines have a "crippling effect" on his client's ability to do political work.

"The timing of this, as far as I'm concerned, is quite suspect," he said.

"Why didn't the commissioner wait until June? Why is it just before an election is called we now have an investigation and this decision?"

Callaway abruptly quit 2017 leadership race

Callaway is the former president of the Wildrose Party.

Jeff Callaway, left, dropped out of the United Conservative Party leadership race in October 2017 and threw his support behind Jason Kenney, right. (Jason Kenney campaign )

He joined the UCP leadership race against Jason Kenney, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer in August 2017, before abruptly dropping out of the race and announcing that he would throw his support behind Kenney in October 2017.

He raised $94,385 during his campaign.

Multiple allegations tied to leadership race

On Jan. 3, former UCP MLA Prab Gill sent CBC News a copy of a letter he wrote to Gibson, reporting what he called a "potentially very serious violation" of the act.

Gill resigned from the UCP caucus after an investigation into allegations of ballot stuffing.

He pointed to a YouTube recording that he alleges shows collusion between Kenney's campaign and Callaway's campaign, and listed multiple political donations that he found suspect, asking the commissioner to investigate. Both Kenney and Callaway have denied the allegations.

"It's not abnormal for competitors to talk to one another on occasion," Kenney's campaign manager John Weissenberger said in an emailed statement dated December 2018.

Gill has also sent a letter to RCMP requesting an investigation into Kenney's campaign, alleging that the UCP leader's campaign improperly manipulated the electronic voting process during the leadership vote. Kenney called the allegations a "ridiculous smear campaign," and said there was no evidence of inappropriate voting.

The RCMP has confirmed it has received the letter but has not said if it plans to investigate.

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.

With files from Kim Trynacity

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