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Third party donations bylaw questionable


  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 12, 2014 06:00 am

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Mayor Crouse’s recent concerns about third parties such as the St. Albert Taxpayers Association or the St. Albert Think Tank becoming involved in municipal elections (“Mayor eyes third party election transparency”, St. Albert Gazette, April 2) are worthwhile, but in practice there are several potential problems with trying to regulate them.

For one thing, the general powers of municipalities as outlined in Sections 6-9 of the Municipal Government Act do not say anything about municipalities having the power to regulate third-party advertising during elections. Municipalities’ powers tend more towards business regulations, transportation, public safety, welfare and municipal services such as roads and sewers. Any sort of rules governing third party advertising in municipal elections would have to be passed by the provincial government.

Nor does the Local Authorities Elections Act give any powers to municipalities regarding third party advertising. It imposes limits on campaign contributions, but the Think Tank did not, to my knowledge, make any donations as a group to any particular candidates. If individual members of the Think Tank made donations, that would have been governed by the rules already in place.

Another potential issue is whether such a law is even necessary. Currently, the United States is debating limits to political campaign contributions. Supporters of the limits point out that particularly rich individuals might try to use their influence to get their preferred candidates elected, drowning out other voices. This is a very real concern in a democracy, and is in part why Canada and Alberta have enacted laws limiting how much money companies and people can donate at election time.

However, we already have informal checks on third party advertising at election time. The Think Tank was severely criticized for its anonymity by many people who wrote to and in the St. Albert Gazette, which led Gord Hennigar to step forward as its public face. Will such a bylaw bring further disclosure, or will it just lead to additional headaches and paperwork for grassroots groups that are made up mostly of ordinary citizens working in their spare time, rather than the organized, heavily bankrolled organizations that are so controversial in the U.S.?

There’s also the fact that such a bylaw would only be effective in St. Albert itself, and would not prevent other organizations like the Edmonton & District Labour Council from endorsing candidates:

Finally, some people might prefer to remain anonymous because they are concerned about facing retribution for their opinions. Vandalism and harassment have occurred in the past against people who’ve expressed unpopular opinions, and some people may choose to remain anonymous for that reason. What measures will the new bylaw have to prevent such potential abuses?

Jared Milne, St. Albert


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