Demand builds for investigation into developer campaign contributions

CALGARY – Mayor Naheed Nenshi and local labour unions say Calgarians deserve answers about campaign donations by developers to civic election candidates.

“We need to look and to investigate and to have some transparency around this, absolutely,” says Alexander Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council. “We have a [campaign donation] limit and the limit needs to be respected.”

The call for an investigation is one of several after Global News obtained a secretly recorded video of a developer meeting last November, in which the founder of Shane Homes, Cal Wenzel, outlines which city councillors he supports and which ones he doesn’t.

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Shevaliar wants an investigation into whether Wenzel and Shane Homes exceeded the cap on campaign contributions by donating trucks and staff, to assemble and distribute signs in the 2010 civic election for Ward 7 candidate, Kevin Taylor.

“When I look at Mr. Taylor’s election disclosure forms, he states that Shane Homes donated $5,000,” says Shevalier. “But it’s unclear whether that was a cash donation or an in-kind donation.”

Mayor Nenshi is also concerned about in-kind donations and warns it could happen again.

“Later in the video it is very clear that people are counselled to do the same in the 2013 election,” says the mayor.

He also wants the Canada Revenue Agency to look into donations to the Manning Centre, a right-wing think tank founded by former opposition leader Preston Manning.

The centre has a program to train civic election candidates.

“We have the donor himself, saying on tape, that he gave the money to bring Preston Manning on board and to hire an employee for his campaign,” says Nenshi.

Nenshi is referring to a portion of the tape where Wenzel talks about a $1.1 million donation to the Manning Centre from 11 developers. Wenzel later says: “ … the funding we have done has brought on Dimitri working for our group, called the Municipal Governance Project.”

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Nenshi says the Manning Centre should return the money.

The province says it’s up to an individual or group to pursue a complaint about campaign contributions by going through the court system and that even Municipal Affairs can’t launch an investigation.

“We set out the legislation in the Local Authorities Election Act,” says Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths. “It sets the limits and the timelines and stuff, and it gives everyone access to the courts in order to pursue any violations of that act.”

Nenshi argues it isn’t clear in the current legislation who has the right to investigate.

He also says penalties for violating the election finance laws need to be strengthened significantly, especially the maximum $10,000 penalty for breaking those laws.

The mayor says he may launch a complaint himself but he probably won’t have to.

“The citizen input that we had on this has been extraordinary and I suspect there’s a lot of citizens who would be perfectly happy to write an email to Mr. Griffith right now.”

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