Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi shared his concerns after complaints were levelled against Jeff Davison’s mayoral campaign over an alleged relationship with a third-party advertiser.
“These allegations, if true, are extremely troubling,” Nenshi said Monday. “They are a violation of the spirit of the law, as well as potentially a violation of the law itself.”
The complaint, which was filed with Alberta’s election commissioner, accuses Davison’s campaign of colluding with a third-party advertiser to raise funds and violating the Local Authorities Elections Act.
In early July, an email was sent to Davison supporters from a campaign staffer promoting a golf event to raise money for the Davison campaign. The invitation included a registration form that prompted people to make personal or corporate donations. The registration form suggested corporate donations be made out to Calgary Tomorrow, a third-party advertiser.
In a follow-up email from the staffer to supporters last week, the registration form advertised the event as a 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 invitation, sponsorships included the opportunity to emcee the event, ask Davison questions in a Q-and-A format, have breakfast with the candidate or to secure naming rights and signage on the course.
“This is simple: union and corporate donations are not allowed in campaigns,” Nenshi said. “You cannot use a third-party advertiser to launder corporate donations so they end up in your campaign.
“This is really really bad. It’s deeply problematic if in fact that is what’s happening.”
According to the Local Authorities Elections Act, candidates are not allowed to seek or accept donations from corporations or unions. The act also states that a candidate cannot collude with a third-party advertiser to circumvent donation limits; the same goes for third-party advertisers.
Last week, Davison told Global News he was unaware of the event and that he had not been in contact with Calgary Tomorrow. He added that to his knowledge, nobody in his campaign had been in contact with the third-party advertiser either.
In a statement to Global News, Davison campaign manager Kelley Charlebois said the campaign did not violate any 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.”
“In this job, you’ve got to have a moral compass, you’ve got to have a true north, because things will land on you every single day that will test your ethical fibre,” Nenshi said.
“It’s about doing what’s right, and if you’re more focused on getting money for your campaign than you are about following the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, then I really have to question where that moral compass is.”
Nenshi said he believes the situation, which arose from changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act, is the “province’s fault.”
The changes, passed by the Alberta government last year, included removing spending limits for third-party advertisers outside the campaign period, and allowing donations to third-party groups of up to $30,000.
The provincial rules also state that financial disclosures for candidates and third parties won’t be released until March 1 following the election. The previous rule required financial disclosures to be released prior to election day.
“The province created this third-party advertising system that has a ton of loopholes in it — I’ve spoken out against it for years,” Nenshi said.
“But I never thought any campaign would allegedly, blatantly, seek out the loopholes in the way that this appears to have happened here.”
The election commissioner would not comment on whether there is or would be an investigation.