More disclosure of donors required under new election laws

Three years of investigations would have to be released by Elections Alberta under proposed amendments to election legislation.
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis speaks to the media about proposed amendments to Alberta's election legislation, as Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths looks on. (CBC)

Three years of investigations, including dozens conducted into illegal donations to the provincial Progressive Conservative party, would have to be released by Elections Alberta under proposed amendments to election legislation.

The provision is contained in the Election Accountability Amendment Act introduced Tuesday afternoon by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.

For the first time, the law will compel party leadership candidates to release the identity of anyone who donated over $250. The threshold for parties to disclose their donors will be lowered from $375 to $250.

Political parties will have to file quarterly reports on their donations, instead of annually, as they do right now.

The proposed amendments also respond to the hundreds of complaints Elections Alberta received about robocalls or demon diallers in the last provincial election.

In future election campaigns, Denis said that the sponsor of the calls and their contact information must be provided at the beginning of the recording.

Fines for infractions under the act will increase from $1,000 to $10,000.

Changes don't go far enough, opposition says

NDP Leader Brian Mason said that the act fails to limit contributions by corporations or place spending limits on political parties during elections.

"Big money will still dominate politics under this act because of course corporate donations will continue to dominate in terms of where the PCs get their money," he said.

Mason believes the law should be changed so that the public learns about cases prior to 2009.

"This particular act simply is another piece in the cover-up puzzle that the Conservatives have been weaving to protect the widespread illegal donations that have funneled taxpayers' money into their political party," he said.

The Wildrose Party plans to introduce amendments to close loopholes in election contribution limits, which still remains at $30,000 for individuals and organizations.

The chief electoral officer is currently investigating a report  that Edmonton Oilers' owner Daryl Katz gave a single $430,000 donation to the Progressive Conservative party during the spring election, which in turn was allegedly broken up into smaller amounts to stay under the contribution limit, with receipts given to his family and business associates.

Smith said the proposed changes don't address these types of situations. She would like to see the law make make political parties more accountable for the donations they receive.

"The very idea that a political party could potentially receive a cheque well in excess of the $30,000 contribution limit and they have no requirement to make sure that it is a valid contribution, we want to see some language around that," she said.

"We will be proposing some amendments."

Municipal terms expand to four years

The new legislation also changes terms for municipal politicians from three to four years, and gives college and university students the option of voting in their home ridings or in the ridinga where they are attending school.

Changes to the election laws follow an ongoing CBC News investigation that revealed numerous illegal political donations to the province's governing Progressive Conservative party.

Chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim investigated dozens of cases and issued administrative fines in 37 of them, as of July 9th.

However, he claimed that the current legislation prohibited him from releasing the outcome of the investigations including the identities of the offending parties.

The lack of transparency also became an issue last month when Elections Alberta announced it would investigate donations made to the Alberta PCs by Daryl Katz, his family and associates.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised that findings in the Katz probe would be made public.