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Thursday, March 01, 2007

PC Leadership CampaignDisclosure Doesn't Cut It!

The disclosure of PC Leadership donations just does not cut it. Larry Johnsrude of the Edmonton Journal has a good analysis and he closely reflects my sentiments. The Progressive conservative Party has not done itself “proud” by having no rules around campaign contribution limits and disclosure. The candidates have done the best they could under the circumstances but the fact remains the PC Party created the circumstances.

Anonymous donations of any size are inappropriate in an open and transparent modern and mature democracy. Now put this under the pressure of a very competitive campaign context of a political party leadership. The system assured that nobody really knows anything about what is going on in the campaign and there is no obligation to account.

Under the circumstances what can you expect except what Stelmach and Hancock did by way of disclosure? Dinning is on board and Oberg will fess up shortly. Norris says he has disclosed already but needs to do it formally as a final wrap up if he expect to run again. Dr. Morton is a no show on campaign contribution disclosure and that is simply not acceptable in this day an age.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, (PCPA) of which I am a proud member, blew it. Instead of giving Albertans a sense of openness and transparency in the process this time, we have cast suspicion on the participants. In 1992, when we last selected a leader, the one person one vote model was a shining example of how we were an open process party inviting citizen participation.

We did not have very stringent fund raising rules around political donations in those days. Now we do. The PCPA ought to have adopted the same rules for political contributions applicable at election time and applied them to the 2006 leadership campaign. We did not change with the times and we should have.

After all we (including me) made big deals that we were not just electing a party leader but also a Premier. We (including me) made a big deal about how open, inclusive and accountable we were being as a party. We were letting any citizen who wanted to vote on our leader and for their Premier “in” on the PC Party's decision for a $5 spot to join the party.

We would welcome risking the loss of control over the selection of “our” party leader to the general population for the good of democracy. Damn we were being good. Right? Over 140,000 ordinary Albertans bought into that reality and showed up, ponied up and voted. Special interests formed and many showed up. Many more who were rumored to be “showing up” didn’t, and the rest, as they say, is history. Well that good will the party earned and deserved, has been squandered over the lack of adequate campaign contribution disclosure rules.

Now we have a pall over the process and the participants because of the immediate cash needs of many campaigns, including late comers like Stelmach and Hancock. They needed to collect money, lots of it and very quickly. So anonymous donations were accepted, simply because they were allowed and the need was great. Not good enough but that was the reality.

Here are the key questions we have to come to grips with on the level of disclosure from what we have seen, so far, and on a voluntary basis. Hancock has 7 no-names and one for $10K. Stelmach has about 80 individual contributions plus other unidentified sources amounting to about 1/3 of his total campaign budget. We don't know the distribution of the anonymous contributions. Are they all in the $1000 range or are their some big whoppers in there too? We need a breakdown to be as least somewhat reassured no one is apppearing to try to buy access and influence.

Hancock, Stelmach and others benefited from significant “fundraising” events that are reported as anonymous too, including the events in Edmonton and Calgary to cover some candidate’s campaign deficits. For the record, I am in for $500 of that “fundraising” group. My $500 ticket had a stub with a place for a name, which I filled out and turned in at the door on the evening of the event.

I fully expected that as a condition of attendance I would be seeing my name disclosed on a contributor list. It has not been so I am telling you my contribution now. I made no other financial contribution to any campaign, including Hancock, but donated hundreds of hours of volunteer time to the Hancock campaign over 6 months and about 60 hours to the Stelmach campaign in the last week.

I am not usually on the fund raising side of campaigns but I have picked up a few of the "realities" over the years. Most anonymous donations come from four main sources. First those who belong to other parties, usually higher profile types, who will support another party’s candidate on the quality of his or her character but they don’t want the publicity that would result from disclosure.

Secondly we have people who have made an “undying pledge” to support one candidate but given the nature of their business, often the government portion of which is significant, they feel they have to "hedge their bets" and support virtually anyone else they think will have an outside chance. The “also rans” contributions are almost always anonymous.

Thirdly are true benefactors, usually individually wealthy citizens. They make larger donations but do not to want to be hounded by other charities or fundraisers, including those outside of politics, for money. They don't need to buy access or influence, they already have it.

Occasionally you get some “rube” who thinks they can buy access to power this way by a big anonymous donation, but they are few and far between. That, however, is the central problem. They can’t buy the access and influence in reality, but we tend to think they can and therefore all anonymous donors all fall into the latter scuzzy category in the public’s mind.

I don’t blame the candidates for this fiasco, but they deserve some of the brunt and they are wearing it now. I mostly blame the PC Party of Alberta, my party, for this mess. We are supposed to be the good guys who are best able to manage and govern the province and be the best group to deserve and be granted the Alberta citizen’s consent to be governed.

Well we fell way too short on the issue of campaign contribution disclosure this time. I will be looking for the new legislation Premier Stelmach has promised to clean up this stupidity and it best be done sooner than later…and it better be good!.