ATB reveals political donations to Alberta PC party

ATB Financial contravened its own policy, and possibly electoral law, by making donations to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party on at least 10 separate occasions.
The publicly-owned bank donated cash to the Alberta Progressive Conservatives 2:31

ATB Financial, Alberta’s publicly owned bank, contravened its own policy, and possibly electoral law, by making donations to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party on at least 10 separate occasions.

In response to a CBC information request, ATB searched its banking transactions for the past eight years. It found the bank made 10 donations, exclusively to the PC party, totalling $1,460 for golf tourney fundraisers, dinners and lunches.

"While the payments were made in the form of fees to attend community events or golf tournaments and not intended in any way as political donations, we acknowledge that these payments should not have been made," the ATB stated in a July 20 letter to CBC. "Accordingly, we have informed the Chief Electoral Officer."

As a Crown corporation, ATB is required, by policy and by law, to remain politically neutral.

The ATB also stated that, "based on our research, we are satisfied that the 10 incidents are isolated mistakes made over the past eight years and do not reflect any disregard for the law or ATB Financial’s practices regarding political donations."

ATB Financial declined interview requests and refused to release any specific information about which Tory riding associations received the donations or which ATB branches or individual employees made the donations.

Critics accuse ATB of spinning political donations

While ATB refused interview requests, its chief executive officer, Dave Mowat, took the unusual step of cold calling every political party shortly after it released its letter to CBC.

"I was surprised by how they tried to downplay it," said NDP MLA Dave Eggen, who spoke to Mowat. "They should know better. They are a Crown corporation and they know their position, vis a vis the government, is very sensitive, it always has been, and for them to have been crossing this line, making direct donations, to the Conservative party, is beyond the pale."

Eggen rejected the bank’s claim it was not flouting the law.

"It doesn’t matter how much money was involved," he said. "It went on for a long time and it demonstrates an institutional disregard for the law that I find very troubling."

Mount Royal political scientist Duane Bratt also rejected the ATB claim that the payments were for "community events" and were "isolated incidents."

"They’re not community events," Bratt said Tuesday.

"If you are there for a political candidate, an MLA, a political party, you are there to support that individual or that party. So to say that, ‘No, it was just a community event,’ is absurd," he said.

Last fall, a CBC investigation uncovered the widespread practice of illegal donations exclusively to the governing Tories by towns, municipalities, post-secondary institutions and other publicly funded corporations.

The ATB branch in Lac La Biche made a donation to the Cormorant Classic, the annual golf fundraiser for former Tory cabinet minister Ray Danyluk.

Pattern of downplaying seriousness of political donations

Bratt observed that a pattern has emerged. Organizations downplay the seriousness of the illegal donations by claiming they were isolated mistakes, had been reported to the chief electoral officer and would not happen again.

"Except this goes to another level because it involves a Crown corporation," he said, adding that "you would hope there would be more accountability from the ATB to its shareholders, which are the people of Alberta."

Wildrose MLA Shane Saskiw said it is not acceptable for the ATB to withhold the details of the political donations.

"We are calling for a full review of this matter," he said. "It should not take investigative journalism to disclose these types of illegal donations. They should be automatically forwarding the information about those instances to the public."

Saskiw said Premier Alison Redford should order ATB Financial to release the information about the political donations.

With this most recent revelation, the office of Alberta’s chief electoral officer has opened nearly 100 files on political donations. So far, 81 files have been investigated. Twenty-six donations have been deemed illegal and fines have been levied. Administrative penalties were issued in another 11 cases.

When Redford was justice minister, her department changed the law so that the chief electoral officer was barred from disclosing the names of any organizations that have been found to have violated the province’s electoral laws.

The opposition has demanded the law be changed.

But current Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has promised only to review any recommendations brought to him by Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim.