Jeff Davison denies allegations his mayoral campaign tried to circumvent donation rules

Coun. Jeff Davison confronted allegations his Calgary mayoral campaign worked with a third-party advertiser (TPA) to elicit corporate donations, denying wrongdoing while blaming misinformation from other campaigns and an "overly enthusiastic volunteer."

Councillor blames 'misinformation' and a volunteer, denies campaign did anything wrong

Jeff Davison, speaking to the media on Wednesday morning, said the claims being made about his integrity and ethics are unacceptable. (CBC)

Coun. Jeff Davison confronted allegations his Calgary mayoral campaign worked with a third-party advertiser (TPA) to elicit corporate donations, denying wrongdoing while blaming misinformation from other campaigns and an "overly enthusiastic volunteer."

Campaigns are not permitted to accept corporate or union donations. 

"I've been in business 20 years, and I've been a city councillor for four. To simply roll over and have some bullshit claim made about my integrity and my ethics is unacceptable," said Davison at a Wednesday news conference organized by his campaign. 

"I can tell you, this complaint is based on the actions of an overly enthusiastic volunteer. We take these actions obviously seriously and have taken steps to ensure it won't happen again."

Davison said all volunteers must now sign a code of conduct. He said the volunteer in question is still with the campaign. 

But he also denied that anything wrong took place and reiterated his campaign and the third-party advertiser in question are separate entities. 

When asked, Davison agreed campaigns should not be promoting a third-party advertiser.

"Correct. And that's why we've taken steps to ensure that that does not happen again," he said.

Allegations and complaints

Earlier this month, a Davison campaign official sent emails to supporters promoting a golf tournament with proceeds going toward the campaign. Sponsorship options included naming rights as well as logo or signage placements, which are all common rewards offered to corporate sponsors at fundraising events. 

A subsequent, nearly identical email promoting the tournament was sent by the third-party advertiser Calgary Tomorrow.

According to the Local Authorities Election Act, candidates can't solicit contributions from prohibited organizations like corporations or unions. Third-party advertisers are also not allowed to circumvent contribution rules by colluding with a candidate, or vice versa. 

The emails have resulted in multiple complaints to Elections Alberta.

'Extremely troubling'

On Monday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the allegations "extremely troubling."

"This is simple: Corporate and union donations are not allowed in campaigns," he said. 

"You cannot use a third-party advertiser to launder corporate donations so they end up in your campaign. This is really, really bad. It's deeply problematic if that's what's in fact happening."

Nenshi said the legislation governing TPAs has loopholes. Changes brought in by the province last year removed spending limits for TPAs. 

Davison said his campaign will work within the rules but says they are "messy and overly complex" and that he would work with the province to overhaul them if he was elected mayor. 

"As a candidate, though, I can't hobble my campaign by rejecting TPA support unless all campaigns also do the same," he said. 

Davison will be facing off against a number of other mayoral hopefuls in October, including council colleagues Jyoti Gondek and Jeromy Farkas. Both said on Wednesday that they were not working directly with any TPAs. 

Farkas said he doesn't believe Davison's defence. 

"It just doesn't make sense how he can say in one breath that nothing untoward happened, but then in the other say that it's not going to happen again," Farkas said. 

Gondek said she was not comfortable commenting, given there could be an investigation underway, but did say candidates are well aware of the rules. 

"My campaign, and specifically me, are well aware that you cannot collude with a third-party advertiser, you can't create one, you can't ask one to do things for you," she said. "These are things we know. So we do not tread into that territory."

Elections Alberta has not yet confirmed if it is investigating the complaints, and Davison says his campaign has not been contacted by the organization tasked with investigating breaches of election laws. 

With files from Scott Dippel