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New bills would limit campaign donations

Municipal politicians in Alberta would have to open up the books on their political campaigns under a new private member’s bill poised to pass in the legislature.

Municipal politicians in Alberta would have to open up the books on their political campaigns under a new private member’s bill poised to pass in the legislature.

Bill 203, an amendment to the Local Authorities Election Act, would make disclosure mandatory for any donations of $100 or more. It would also cap donations at $5,000 for any person or business.

Jeff Johnson, MLA for Athabasca-Redwater, authored the bill and said he felt municipal elections needed more regulations.

“It was obvious that we had a big gap in our legislation across the province and this was a good opportunity to fill it,” he said. “We have really tight and strong rules for provincial campaigns and federal campaigns, and we have no rules at all for municipal campaigns.”

St. Albert already has a campaign disclosure bylaw, but it would have to be tweaked to fall in line with the new bill.

Currently all donations of $200 or more have to be disclosed and there is no contribution limit.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said he stands behind anything that will make elections more open.

“Whatever we can do to level the playing the field and be more transparent is something I can support.”

Crouse spent $45,857 on his last campaign in 2007, at the time the most spent by any mayoral challenger ever.

Only a few of Crouse’s donations were over the $5,000 limit and those came mostly from his own pockets or his family.

He said the limit would require him to do things a little differently and look for more donations, but he is not concerned with the change.

“It allows those people who might have limited resources to get involved in the process and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said the proposed bill lines up with the town’s existing bylaw.

The town doesn’t have a maximum contribution limit, but Bertschi said he doubts it would have a big impact on campaigns in that community.

“The most I have ever spent is about $4,000 to $5,000,” he said. “If I got $5,000 from one benefactor, that would by far cover off all my expenses. In fact I am always my own largest contributor by far.”

Sturgeon County is the only local municipality without a disclosure bylaw. Candidates there don’t have to disclose their spending or donations.

Johnson said he believes councillors will welcome the new rules because it will take away the potential for rumours and innuendos.

“It is going to eliminate any perception that the public may have about people being exposed to undue influence.”

When the rules came in for provincial and federal campaigns, he said candidates were able to dismiss such allegations simply by showing the numbers.

“It got rid of some of the allegations and insulations because more information was made available to the public.”

Johnson said he doesn’t expect there will be a decline in donations and spending because most donations come in small amounts well under the $5,000 limit.

“I think the only folks who won’t be contributing are the people who don’t want their names out or people over that cap and I suspect that is a really small majority.”

The bill has passed first and second reading and is out of committee waiting for third reading.

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