Saturday, June 2, 2012

PC Party Implicated in Illegal Political Contributions

Evidence has surfaced from the University of Calgary that suggests that public monies for the university was kicked back to the PC Party as contributions. Under the Alberta electoral finance law, public institutions like the University of Calgary are disallowed from making political contributions. In the 2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Audit, Alberta received the lowest score of Canada's 10 provinces. 40 plus years of the same political party in power may explain Alberta's systematic corruption.

From the FDA Canadian Provinces Report and with reference to Alberta:

No contributions to registered parties, constituency associations, and candidates from non-Alberta corporations and trade unions, public post-secondary institutions, prohibited corporations, school boards, Métis settlements, municipalities, and provincial corporations (Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, Definition of prohibited corporation).

The University of Calgary is a public post-secondary institution.

U of C documents point to political donations that may have contravened election law

By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald

Thousands of dollars in "indirect contributions" apparently flowed from the University of Calgary to the Alberta Progressive Conservative party, according to documents obtained by the Herald on Friday through freedom of information laws.

The correspondence contains a series of e-mails that put prominent Tory Joe Lougheed - son of former premier Peter Lougheed - in the middle of questions over whether public funds went to the province's PC party.

In a news release Friday, the university said a freedom of information request early this year prompted an internal investigation into whether money went to political parties between 2004 and 2008, breaking provincial elections laws.

The entire matter is now before the province's chief electoral officer.

"From the records, it appears that if there were any indirect contributions which contravened the legislation, the amount involved was just under $10,000," the university said in a statement.

In 2008, the post-secondary institution said it put an end to any practices that may have contravened the elections laws.

But dozens of pages of documents and e-mails regarding donations and fundraisers were released to the Herald on Friday, including e-mails that show Lougheed - a Calgary lawyer who once unsuccessfully ran for the PC party presidency - was locked in a debate with the university over a $4,500 bill in 2008.

Lougheed was contracted by the U of C to perform government relations work at the time.

In an e-mail to the U of C's lawyer about the bill, he noted the university was "precluded" from directly buying tickets to any premier's dinners - a main PC fundraising event.

"We buy the table for the U of C write off the disbursement and then simply charge for an equivalent amount of time," said an e-mail from Lougheed dated Aug. 13, 2008.

"This is a practice which we have followed for a couple of years now."

However, the university general counsel at the time, Charlene Anderson, wrote back saying this was unacceptable and possibly illegal.

"This practice, in my opinion, exposes the University to unnecessary risks - legally, financially and reputationally," Anderson said in an e-mail to Lougheed one day later.

"The University cannot pay for services that were not rendered, nor should we circumvent the rules that preclude us from buying a table."

In a e-mail on Aug. 18, Anderson again wrote: "I stand by my very real concern that this practice is illegal and is unacceptable."

Earlier this year, Lougheed submitted a statement to the university saying his "poorly drafted e-mail" from 2008 might have created confusion, insisting he never billed for services not provided to the post-secondary institution.

He said university officials were invited to premier's dinners as guests of his law firm, Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC), which also provided legal services to the university.

"I have always sought to conduct myself with honour and integrity and to serve my clients and my community as best I can," Lougheed wrote in February.

"At no time did I or FMC act on behalf of the University of Calgary as an agent to facilitate political donations."

On Friday, Lougheed wasn't available for comment.

Martin McInally, a public relations representative for Fraser Milner Casgrain, said the firm does not comment on its work or clients, noting the issue is "being looked at by the chief electoral officer."

Under Alberta's elections law, the university is considered a "prohibited corporation," barred from donating any money to political parties because it receives funding from the provincial government. This budget year, the province will give the U of C grants totalling at least $540 million.

Ken McKinnon, a member of the executive committee of the university's board of governors, said Friday the U of C is taking the matter seriously.

"As soon as we found out about this information, and because of its grey or conflicting nature, we sent it immediately to the chief electoral officer," he said in an interview.

"So this is being reviewed by him now, and until it's been adjudicated, we can't comment."

But in response to the new documents, NDP Leader Brian Mason called Friday for a judicial inquiry into Tory fundraising.

"It certainly could be more widespread than just the one instance. We cannot trust the Conservatives to police themselves," he said.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson believes there is a systemic attempt by the PCs to skirt election financing laws.

"All that's happened here is that the person involved seems to have been silly enough to put it into his e-mail," Anderson said.

Illegal donations became a major political issue in the lead-up to April's provincial election and were raised in the legislature this week before the spring sitting ended Thursday.

PC party president Bill Smith wasn't available for comment on Friday.

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk told the Herald he had no knowledge of the case and said the Tory government played no role in the timing of the U of C's information being released.

Lukaszuk said he was stunned to hear Lougheed's name attached to the issue.

"I find it very surprising because, you know, the last name in itself carries a ... lot of stability," he said. "I'm shocked to hear that."

Lukaszuk said at this point, no wrongdoing has been proven. The deputy premier said there is no problem with university officials attending a political fundraiser, but must do it on their own dime.

He said it would be an issue if someone deliberately attempted to skirt electoral financing laws. "If that is the case, of course I'd have concerns," Lukaszuk added.

The documents released Friday also show a number of other occasions where university officials, including former vice-president of external relations Roman Cooney, were invited or purchased tickets to PC fundraising events.

However, it's unclear whether these events were later billed to the university or paid by individuals. Contacted by e-mail, Cooney - a former Herald journalist and now a senior vice-president at Alberta Health Services - declined to comment Friday.

Elections Alberta spokesman Drew Westwater said the U of C matter is one of the 79 cases of alleged illegal donations the chief electoral officer has been investigating since the fall.

It appears not to have been one of the 59 cases that have been resolved, however, as the university says it has received no notification from Elections Alberta.

The U of C is not subject to prosecution because the events occurred more than three years ago, outside the statute of limitations for charges to be laid.

On Friday, the university said it voluntarily reported the findings of its own investigation to Alberta's chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim in February.

2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Report

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