11/20/2012 05:29 EST | Updated 01/20/2013 05:12 EST

Alberta Legislature: Election Accountability Amendment Act Would Expose Illegal Donations

EDMONTON - Legislation tabled in the Alberta legislature would give the chief electoral officer power to publicly divulge the names of those who give and those who get illegal political donations.

The Election Accountability Amendment Act would also allow the elections officer to divulge specifics of an offence and detail the penalty imposed.

“The bill goes a long way towards ensuring that Alberta’s electoral system remains both accountable and responsive,” Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said Tuesday after the bill was introduced in the legislature.

It addresses a core disagreement between current officer, Brian Fjeldheim, and Premier Alison Redford over interpretation of the disclosure law as it now stands

The Tories say Fjeldheim already has the power to name names, but he says he doesn’t.

The act is intended to clear up other concerns over public disclosure.

The Tories have been dogged in the past year by allegations of improper donations to their party from government-funded municipalities, schools, colleges and universities.

The criticisms struck close to home for the premier Monday when it was revealed her sister, Lynn Redford, was reimbursed more than $3,000 by taxpayers to attend and hold PC party events.

Overall, Fjeldheim has opened up more than 81 files in the last year. Three weeks ago, he began investigating allegations that billionaire Daryl Katz contributed $430,000 to the Tory campaign in the spring election — well over the $30,000 individual maximum.

Party officials have not commented on the specifics of the Katz donations, but say there is evidence no one contributed more than the maximum.

Fjeldheim must release his findings to Katz and to the Tories. Redford has said she will make the findings publicly available.

The new law would also allow Fjeldheim the one-time opportunity to publicly report on findings dating back three years. Critics had expressed concern update legislation would not allow for retroactive disclosure.

The bill does not allow for disclosure if no wrongdoing is found.

Among other changes:

— Fines for breaches to increase from a maximum $1,000 to a maximum $10,000.

— The act would not apply just to general elections, but also to party leadership contests.

— The maximum individual contribution would remains at $30,000.

— No overall limit to party fundraising and spending.

— Anyone donating less than $250 to a party would not have his or her name made public (down from $375).

— Donor information would be made public quarterly on the Elections Alberta website rather than once a year, as is the case now.

— Post-secondary students who have left home to study would be able to vote at home or in the district where their school is located.

The act also incorporates previously announced changes to municipal voting rules.

As outlined previously by Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, local politicians are to serve for four years rather than three, starting with elections in 2013.

The proposed law would require voters to produce identification for municipal contests. It also mandates that if an incumbent candidate decides not to run again, any surplus campaign funds in his or her account are given to the municipality or to charity.

Legislation tabled in the Alberta legislature would give the chief electoral officer power to publicly divulge the names of those who give and those who get illegal political donations.

Right now, chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim (FEHLD'-hyme) says he doesn’t have that authority.

Premier Alison Redford’s government says he does, but is passing legislation to make that clear once and for all.

Once the bill is proclaimed, it will also allow Fjeldheim to publicly disclose findings dating back three years.

Fjeldheim has opened 81 files since last year on alleged improper donations.

Redford’s Tories have been dogged by allegations of improper donations from schools, municipalities and, most recently, from Redford’s sister, Lynn.

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