A mayoral candidate in the upcoming Calgary municipal election is under fire following complaints a golf tournament fundraiser may have violated campaign fundraising rules.
The complaint accuses Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison’s campaign of colluding with a third-party advertiser to raise funds and violating the Local Authorities Elections Act.
The tournament, to be hosted at the Heritage Pointe Golf Club on July 29, is being put on by a third-party advertiser called Calgary Tomorrow to raise funds for advertising to support Davison in his bid to be the city’s next mayor.
An email advertising the golf event was sent to Davison supporters on July 6, stating the candidate was hosting the Jeff Davison for Mayor fundraising tournament.
The email, which was sent by Davison’s interim campaign manager Catherine Brownlee through an email account not associated with the campaign, included a registration form that prompted donors for personal or corporate donations. The registration form suggested corporate donations be made out to Calgary Tomorrow.
In a follow up email from Brownlee to supporters on July 20, the registration form advertised the event as the Calgary Tomorrow fundraiser and said “proceeds from the tournament will be used to conduct election advertising in support of Jeff Davison’s run for mayor.”
According to the Davison campaign, Brownlee is no longer interim campaign manager but remains with the campaign as a volunteer.
The latest registration asked for a $10,000 title sponsorship donation and a $5,000 breakfast sponsorship. According to the invitation, the title sponsorship includes the opportunity to MC the event or ask Davison questions in a Q and A format, and the breakfast sponsorship included breakfast with the candidate.
Jan Damery, who is also running for mayor in October’s election, has filed the complaint to the Election Commissioner regarding the event.
Damery’s complaint accuses Davison’s campaign of violating the Local Authorities Elections Act.
“We’ve become aware in my campaign, I and my team, that Coun. Davison allegedly has violated campaign finance rules,” Damery said. “We’re just asking questions, it’s looking offside to the legislation.”
Damery said she’d like to see an investigation into the fundraiser.
Lisa Young, a professor at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, has researched political financing extensively over her career and says it’s important for campaigns and third party advertisers to remain separate entities.
“The idea is that there’s a real risk that third parties will be set up as a way for candidates and their campaigns to get around the law,” Young said. “So if we say that a candidate can’t take money from unions, but then a third party is set up to take money from unions on behalf of the candidate, and the candidate is aware of it, then it’s really just like the candidate taking money from unions.”
The Election Commissioner would not comment whether there is or would be an investigation.
As for the complaints levied about the fundraising event, Young said there is “a strong appearance of collusion or cooperation between the campaign and the third party.”
“The legislation says that a candidate shall not collude with a third party to circumvent a contribution limit, and that’s really what’s essential. So is there some kind of explicit cooperation between the candidate and the third party as a way of getting around the contribution limits that the candidate faces?” Young asked.
“So if the event is being held to raise contributions that the candidate could not accept, then my interpretation would be that the candidate should not be there and should not be explicitly cooperating with this third party in its fundraising activities.”
Davison unaware of fundraiser
When asked by Global News about the golf fundraiser, Davison said he was unaware of the event and that he had not been in contact with Calgary Tomorrow.
Davison added he was aware there is a group operating to raise money in support of his candidacy for mayor.
“I know there’s a lot of third-party advertisers out there, they are completely legal and operate within the jurisdiction of Elections Calgary and Elections Alberta,” Davison said. “These are a byproduct of what the provincial legislation has laid out in order to fundraise for Calgarians.
“I am completely aware there is a group out there raising money for my candidacy for mayor.”
He added that, to his knowledge, nobody in his campaign had been in contact with the third-party advertiser either.
Davison said campaigns can’t accept money from third-party advertisers, nor can they be in contact about fundraising.
In a statement to Global News, Davison campaign manager Kelley Charlebois maintains the campaign did not violate any of the rules.
“Our campaign is committed to both the spirit and the intention of the provincial legislation,” Charlebois said. “We have strictly followed the rules as laid out and we will continue to do so.”
Calgary Tomorrow registered but undisclosed
Damery’s complaint also accuses Calgary Tomorrow of operating without being registered as a third party.
But, according to Elections Calgary, Calgary Tomorrow is a third-party advertiser that registered on May 3, 2021.
However, Calgary Tomorrow did not provide consent to Elections Calgary to make their information publicly available.
Elections Calgary said the Local Authorities Election Act doesn’t give Elections Calgary the authority to publish that information without the consent of the third-party advertiser, nor is it required.
On Thursday, Global News was notified that Calgary Tomorrow had given consent to have their information be publicly listed online, and the website would be updated.
“It’s unfortunate that individual Calgarians who have chosen to participant in the democratic process to select our next mayor, are now being targeted by frivolous complaints and slimy political tactics to suggest something untoward has happened,” Charlebois said in a statement.
Davison’s campaign manager also encouraged all third-party advertisers to make their information publicly available.
“As the rules stipulate, it’s not our decision on what any third-party advertiser chooses to do. I’d also suggest that any donor to a TPA ought to ask where their money is going.”
Young said the amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act make it challenging for voters as well as those behind campaigns to interpret.
“When I look at this legislation, I think it is pretty hard to find your way through, some of the pieces have been moved over to regulation, so you need to go looking at another place to see if there are expenditure limits,” Young said. “So it’s not the most user friendly piece of legislation that I’ve seen, when I compare it.”