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

Alberta Riding Associations: Election Boss Probes Donations To PC Party Constituencies

EDMONTON - Ten of the 83 Progressive Conservative riding associations in Alberta are being investigated for accepting illegal campaign contributions.

The province's chief electoral officer, Brian Fjeldheim, is trying to get to the bottom of allegations that the associations took money from organizations such as municipalities.

Publicly funded organizations are banned from funding partisan politics and politicians can't solicit or accept such donations.

Party president Bill Smith, in a letter to all constituency associations, urged them to co-operate fully with the investigation.

"As a political party in Alberta we are governed by both strict rules in legislation and our own strict belief that as the party honoured with being elected by Albertans to govern, we must set the highest standard for transparency, " Smith said in a news release Thursday.

"Premier Redford and I are in complete agreement that we will fully co-operate as always with this process, and ensure that if mistakes were made that we stand up and admit...(and) create processes to ensure it doesn't happen again."

Smith also asked the 73 presidents whose constituencies aren't being investigated to go back over the books for the last three years to ensure all donations were solicited and recorded properly.

The issue came to light last fall, when a news report suggested politicians and officials from St. Paul paid to attend a PC party golf fundraiser.

Opponents, including the Alberta Liberals and Wildrose party, said they had uncovered similar schemes in Barrhead, Cardston, Hardisty and elsewhere.

Fjeldheim is barred by law from revealing any details during the investigation, including the names of the ridings involved.

The Wildrose has said the donations are symptomatic of a diseased political system that comes from the Conservatives being in power for 40 consecutive years. The party also said municipal leaders feel the heat to donate or be punished through funding cuts or other measures.

“Obviously, this is a bigger problem than anyone first thought,” said Wildrose deputy leader Paul Hinman in a news release.

“With one in eight PC constituencies under investigation for illegal contributions, it’s reasonable to conclude this practice is rampant within the PC party.”

When the issue became public last fall, Redford urged the chief electoral officer to get involved.

"I've said from the beginning that that isn't a practice we condone," Redford told the legislature in October.

But she also said municipalities have to step up.

"Municipal leaders, who are also elected by their communities, have a responsibility to follow the rules."

The issue comes as all parties prepare for a spring general election. Under legislation passed late last year, Redford must hold the vote sometime between March 1 and May 31.

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