Changes contained in the new Election Accountability Amendment Act approved during the fall sitting of the legislature should give Albertans more transparency in the area of political donations.
The changes will make it easier for citizens to uncover more details about political contributions to all provincial parties. Disclosure of information will appear on the Elections Alberta website (www.elections.ab.ca) starting Jan. 31.
As the website indicates, the amendments allow the province's Chief Electoral Officer to release the findings of investigations where violations have occurred. The electoral officer will "also reveal the outcome of investigations in which allegations were unfounded, on request of the subject of the complaint, to allow for the public release of the findings of the Chief Electoral Officer. The new law will apply to investigations of alleged prohibited contributions dating back to December, 2009."
The new law will also allow for the disclosure of candidates' supporters and their donations when provincial political parties hold leadership contests.
Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick, in a story in Monday's Lethbridge Herald, noted that similar changes are being planned to improve transparency at the local political level. The details are still being prepared but once they're completed, the public will have access to the names of contributors to civic election campaigns, along with the amounts donated.
Such public disclosure will enhance the democratic process at the provincial and civic levels by providing a greater degree of accountability in the area of campaign contributions.
The website Democracy Web notes, "Without accountability and transparency, democracy is impossible. In their absence, elections and the notion of the will of the people have no meaning, and government has the potential to become arbitrary and self-serving."
These amendments to allow for more disclosure should help address what the Wildrose party calls the "democratic deficit," which it says "is compounded by a lack of transparency and accountability in government."
Disclosure is a key component of campaign spending rules. A report in January 2010 by B.C.'s Local Government Elections Task Force examining campaign financing in B.C. local elections, noted: ". . . a jurisdiction may focus more on limiting campaign spending rather than limiting who can contribute and how much, reflecting a belief that the principle of fairness is best served by regulating candidates and parties rather than donors. Or, a jurisdiction may prefer to focus on transparency, believing that a system based largely on financial disclosure mitigates the need for limits on contributions or expenses because transparency requirements provide an incentive for moderation and balance."
Even if campaign financing rules focus on spending limits, there's still a need to ensure the matter of transparency and accountability is covered, because without it, there's the potential for rules to be broken.
Elections Alberta says the new disclosure laws will make Alberta's regulations more comprehensive than those in other provinces, and offer more transparency than at the federal level.
That's good news for Albertans. It provides a better check to ensure the democratic process is being upheld in this province.
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