Energy firms among top political donors by Chris Varcoe and Karen Kleiss, Postmedia News and Edmonton Journal, April 3, 2014
Energy firms and large corporations were among the biggest donors to Alberta political parties last year, but critics say it’s more evidence the province’s political financing rules need a major overhaul. A review of Elections Alberta filings show Encana, TransAlta, Enbridge, Suncor and BFI Canada donated an average of $20,000 each to political parties in 2013, ranking them among the biggest financial contributors in Alberta politics.
“It really is a way as a company that we can support the democratic process,” Encana spokesman Jay Averill said recently, explaining the company supported three parties because “if parties are being supported financially, then they can focus on governing.” Encana, a Calgary-based petroleum producer, gave a total of $30,516.50 to the Wildrose ($9,800), the Liberals ($3,000) and the Progressive Conservatives, with donations to PCs split between the party itself ($13,235) and 10 constituency associations ($4,481.50). Averill said the contributions to constituency associations were typically tied to local events in areas where the company operates.
TransAlta contributed $17,000 — giving almost all to the Tories — while Enbridge gave $16,500, which included $3,000 to the Wildrose and $1,700 to the Liberals.
Suncor gave $20,500, most of which went to the PC party and constituency associations ($16,000); the rest went to the Wildrose ($4,500).
Waste company BFI Canada contributed nearly $18,000, with $6,000 going to the Wildrose and the remainder to the Tories.
Last year, the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties each brought in roughly $3 million in donations, but the Tories ended the year with $946,000 in debt, while the Wildrose reported $430,000 in net assets.
Under Alberta’s Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, donors can give up to $15,000 to each registered party, plus an additional $5,000 to constituency associations.
Critics say Alberta’s donation rules are too lax, arguing companies, unions and other organizations that don’t vote shouldn’t be allowed to give money to political parties. “There’s a real direct correlation between who’s paying the piper and what the policies are,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta.
The three opposition parties in Alberta have previously called for rule changes that would ban union and corporation donations, matching a federal prohibition. Federally, individuals can give $1,200 annually to a party and another $1,200 to riding associations in non-election years.
According to Elections Alberta documents, the Wildrose won the party fundraising war in 2013, bringing in a total of $3.07 million, most of which came from individuals.
The party says it received money from 12,262 donors last year, with 2,326 giving $250 or more and requiring identification under provincial laws. These smaller donations made up 45 per cent of the party’s fundraising base.
Only one individual — Calgarian Jim Davidson, the executive chairman of FirstEnergy investment firm — gave the maximum $15,000 amount to the Wildrose. FirstEnergy also contributed $3,000 to the party, records show.
Other large individual Wildrose donors include Sherin Meadows of Red Deer County, who gave $10,000 to the Wildrose and another $2,000 to the party’s constituencies, and Matt Meier, president of Internet and polling firm RackNine Inc., who gave $11,411.
On the corporate side, the Wildrose did not have any donors contribute the maximum $15,000, but had several crack the five-figure threshold.
Wildrose president Dave Yager said the party managed to tap into many small individual supporters in 2013, which helped keep pace with the larger corporate donations of the Progressive Conservatives.
“We see that as a measure of grassroots support,” he said Thursday. “We have many, many more donors giving small amounts — and that’s all you get in the polling booth. No matter how big a cheque you write, you only get one vote.”
The Progressive Conservative party says it had 6,002 donors last year; smaller contributions under $250 made up eight per cent of its overall donations base.
Some individual donors who gave the maximum $15,000 last year included Eleanor Chiu and Wayne Chiu of Calgary, T. Cheng Fong, and Resman Holdings, according to the filings.
On Wednesday, party president Jim McCormick sent out a letter to members noting the PCs, through donations made to the party and individual constituency associations, actually raised almost $1 million more than the Wildrose.
Premier Dave Hancock said Wednesday that party “fundraising is actually not that bad” and constituency associations have done well raising money in the past year, despite recent political turmoil.
Among the other parties, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman gave $11,150 to his party, more than any other party leader.
The NDP received donations from unions and labour groups, including $14,841 from the United Food and Commercial Workers and nearly $9,000 from the United Steel Workers.
The Alberta Party’s major donors included Edmonton businessman Chris LaBossiere, who gave $5,650, and party leader Greg Clark, who contributed $4,322 to his party. [Emphasis added]