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Data: Calgary election donor disclosures show who gave the most – and to whom

March 31 marked the final date for campaign disclosures being released by Elections Calgary.

With that, LiveWire Calgary has dived deep into the forms for 99 of the candidates who filed for their mayoral and ward campaigns.

By the numbers, there were 5,127 individuals—and companies—that donated to these campaigns during the 2021 municipal election, for a total of 6,499 donations.

The total dollar amount disclosed by candidates as having been donated during the election period was $4,181,315. A number of candidates collected disclosed donations that were collected prior to the election, or had roll-over contributions from the 2017 municipal election. These were not counted.

A clean campaign, for the most part

By-in-large the campaigns were ran according to the rules set out in the Local Authorities Election Act.

Under the LAEA, candidates could accept donations of up to $5,000 from any individual who is normally a resident of Alberta. Corporations, organizational, and anonymous donations were prohibited during the campaign. The Act requires both donors and campaigns to be aware if their donation is legal or not.

A single donation was disclosed to have been made for $5,500 to the Tariq Khan campaign in Ward 5. His campaign disclosure form indicated that the sole return of $1,000 was not from this individual.

From the disclosures, a total of eight corporations made donations to candidates during the election period. LiveWire Calgary was able to confirm that most, but not all, of these were returned or donated to charity.

A total of three donations were accepted from addresses in the United States. As part of our deep dive, we were able to determine that two of these were due to errors in collecting addresses from donations through PayPal. Kim Tyers, who ran in Ward 2, voluntarily amended her disclosure form to correct this error after speaking to LiveWire Calgary.

A small number of donations were made where the donor was unknown, or not disclosed. Stan Sandhu, who ran in Ward 5, accepted a single $1,000 donation where no name was provided. Ward 10 candidate Mushtaq Kayani accepted two $800 donations where the disclosure form listed these as from an unknown person. Both of the candidate’s disclosure forms indicated that these donations were not returned.

The LAEA requires that in the event a donor’s identity can not be established, an equal amount be donated to a registered charity, or to the municipality that the candidate is running in.

Elections Calgary doesn’t investigate errors

Under the LAEA, Elections Calgary does not have any authority or mandate to investigate donations taken in error by a campaign.

Elections Alberta handles all complaints under the LAEA. It’s up to the public to make complaints to the Election Commissioner when either a donor, or a campaign fails to meet their legal obligation. And complaints can be made via their website, mail, email, or by phone to the commissioner.

However, Elections Calgary is set to provide a report to the next Combined Meeting of city council on April 12, listing the Candidates who filed late and who have not yet filed their disclosures.

Candidates who filed their forms late were assessed a $500 penalty under the LAEA, and a number of campaigns have already paid this amount. The current disclosures on the Elections Calgary website for 2021 constitutes all of the individuals who have filed their disclosure forms, on-time or otherwise.

Notable candidates who have not filed include mayoral candidates Brad Field, Kevin Johnson, and Wards 1 and 6 candidates Steve Webb and Lana Bentley whom both came second in their respective races.

Elections Alberta can ban candidates from running for office for eight years as a result of failing to file a disclosure.

Top donors across all mayoral and ward races

Under the rules, while any individual can only donate a maximum of $5,000 to a single campaign, there is no limit to the number of donations that can be made to multiple campaigns.

Among the top donors, both as an individual and as a Calgary political power couple, Irfhan Rawji and his wife Christine Armstrong, donated a total of $77,000 to various candidates during the election. Rawji topped the 2021 list with a total of $52,000 to 11 candidates.

Dr. Mark Zivot came third on the total value of donations made ($47,000), but made by far the most donations to different campaigns at 23.

UCalgary political scientist Lisa Young reviewed portions of the data prior to publication. She said it’s not uncommon to see names on donor lists connected with areas the city has jurisdiction – like land development.

Young said typically these folks will donate to incumbents. With so many open seats on Calgary city council, there’s quite a dispersion of the donations.

“I think, basically, in some ways because they want to be sure that they’ve got some sense of connection, and perhaps an expectation of reciprocity, from the people who are making these decisions,” she said.

When looking at other major contributors, one could conclude an ideological split. This Calgary city council has an apparent political divide among those elected.

“They (donors) wanted a particular kind of city council,” Young said.

“And so it really is a bit more ideological than we would normally expect to see in city politics.”

In the case of multiple donations in any given race, the donations could not only be reflective of who they want to see elected, but who had the best chance of election, Young said.

Top donor winning percentage

Along with your typical developer contributions, Young said there are familiar names on the list connected with other city issues. Names like Brett Wilson, Jim Gray, Allan Markin, Barry Ehlert are connected with things like the Green Line opposition or the Event Centre.

Tying themselves to candidates with certain perspectives on issues didn't always pan out.

Among the top donors to multiple campaigns, CEO of Calgary-based Strategic Group Riaz Mamdani donated the largest percentage of his total donations to winning campaigns at 67 per cent. Among the winning campaigns were donations of $2,500 or larger to Jyoti Gondek, Courtney Walcott, and Peter Demong.

The lowest percentages were between petroleum magnates Ronald Mathison and Brett Wilson, who donated just 19 and 17 per cent of their total donations to winning campaigns.

On average, the top donors donated approximately 45 per cent to winning campaigns, and 55 per cent to losing campaigns.

Over all of the 5,127 donors, only 27 per cent made donations to winning campaigns.

Young said that isn't surprising. While it's difficult to run a competitive campaign without resources, more money doesn't guarantee a win. Ward 2's Jennifer Wyness spent $13,000+ on her campaign, while Joe Magliocca spent more than $100,000, and Kim Tyers around $60K.

"There's no necessary one-to-one relationship between having money and being successful," Young said.

Elections that belong to everybody

Young said the numbers could show a disconnection between government and the majority of Calgary voters.

"There certainly is a group of affluent individuals who were successful, who now do have some access," she said.

"From the point of view of feeling like elections belong to everybody, you look at these kinds of numbers, and I think a lot of people would look and say, 'Hmm, you know, there's this this whole level of influence on both sides of the political spectrum here, that the rest of us are excluded from."

Young pointed to a public opinion analysis from October last year that showed most respondents said the $5,000 limit is too high for local politics.

The second part, Young said, is the ability for people to donate to as many campaigns as they want.

"That was a rule change and it did not need to be changed," she said.

Alberta's local election finance rules are vastly different from other Canadian cities, Young said. Changes are warranted locally.

"I think it's pretty clear that we need to lower the contribution limit and we need to have a lower global limit for what any one individual can give," she said.

Where the dollars came from

Municipal areas of Alberta where donations were from, to Calgary mayoral and ward campaigns. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

A total of 255 donations were made by individuals living outside of Calgary into the mayor and municipal races. For the candidates, this brought in more than $205,000 out of the $4,181,315 total donations made, or approximately 5 per cent.

Edmonton, Chestermere, and Okotoks all had the largest numbers of donors, with 39, 32, and 20 respectfully. Although Chestermerians donated nearly $40,000 compared to the $30,000 from Edmontonians.

Cold Lake and Bearspaw had relatively few donations in total, but individuals from those locations maxed out their donations at $5000 each. For the locations that had 10 or more donors, the average donation was approximately $925.

Campaign donations by the numbers

The following histograms show the breakdown of how many donors made donations at a particular dollar level. The taller the rectangle, the more donations were made.