POLITICS

Alberta elections officer probes Tory riding donations

01/05/2012 01:35 EST | Updated 03/06/2012 05:12 EST

Ten Conservative riding associations are under investigation by Alberta’s chief electoral officer for their handling of political donations from banned organizations, including municipalities.

Progressive Conservative Association president Bill Smith revealed the investigations Wednesday in a release, which included a letter to all 83 of the party's constituency association executives.

"Our leader Alison Redford and I are in complete agreement that we will fully co-operate as always with the process and ensure that if mistakes were made, that we stand up and admit so, create processes to ensure it doesn't happen again, and continue to work to grow the PC brand in Alberta," Smith said.

The probe follows CBC News investigations that found several Conservative riding associations both illegally accepted and solicited donations from groups banned by law from giving money to political parties

Under the Election Finances Act, it is illegal for a political party to solicit or accept money from any group that receives provincial or federal funding, such as municipalities, Crown corporations, post-secondary institutions, and Métis settlements.

In his news release, Smith also said that as the governing party, the Conservatives "must set the highest standard for transparency."

But he then declined to release the names of the 10 constituency associations under investigation.

"I guess it looks like it's a little bit not congruent and I'll be happy to look at the list and we can have a discussion about it," Smith said.

The party's executive director, Kelly Charlebois, told CBC News the list of associations under investigation would not be released. He said it would be unfair to release them because the chief electoral officer had yet to complete his report.

The office of the Chief Electoral Officer is barred by law from disclosing any information about ongoing investigations so it’s not known which constituency associations are under investigation.

Municipalities donated

In October, a CBC News investigation revealed the town of St. Paul spent taxpayer funds to send its chief administrative officer, mayor, and two councillors to the Cormorant Classic, a golf-tournament fundraiser for Lac La Biche – St. Paul Conservative MLA Ray Danyluk.

It was later disclosed that other municipalities also had made donations to the Tories. The premier blamed municipal politicians for not following the rules. The Opposition Liberals have documented 25 cases in which municipalities supported the Tories.

A subsequent CBC News investigation found that fundraisers for the Cormorant Classic solicited donations from other prohibited groups, including the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, Portage College and the Lac La Biche branch of ATB Financial.

Internal review

In his letter to constituency officials, Smith asks them to conduct a review of their last three years of donation records, "and be in a position to assure me that you are confident all donations are appropriate and have been handled correctly."

Smith has said problems with prohibited donations only occurred in 2011.

But a CBC News investigation in 2010 found the Town of Rimbey supported the Tory party through donations for several years. The recent investigation also found other municipalities supported the PC party for years.

Wildrose Deputy Leader Paul Hinman said the problems with prohibited donations are the product of 40 years of unbroken Tory rule.

"[Conservative politicians] don't differentiate between the party and the government and they don't see anything wrong with it," Hinman said.

"But the fact is, they've been breaking the law, and now they're being investigated and they're changing their tune a little bit because there is an election coming."