Elections Canada to crack down on donors who gave over the legal limit

OTTAWA – The hunt is on for people who, either by accident or intentionally, may have skirted the legal limits for political donations by spreading around their money.

Elections Canada is going to audit contributions made during the 2011 federal election campaign to nomination contestants, riding associations and candidates affiliated with the same parties.

Current election rules let donors give up to $1,200 in a calendar year to each registered political party. That means someone could give up to $1,200 to the Conservatives, another $1,200 to the NDP, and so on.

The rules further allow an additional annual total of $1,200 to be split between registered electoral district associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a particular political party. Donors can allocate their contributions between those three entities as they see fit, just as long as each party receives no more than $1,200.

That is what Elections Canada intends to review.

The so-called “horizontal audit” is meant to find anyone who gave a particular political party more than they were allowed to in 2011 through their total combined donations.

“As required by the Canada Elections Act, any political entity that received excess funds will be required to pay them back to the contributor or the Receiver General of Canada,” says Elections Canada’s newly released report on plans and priorities.

Most excess donations are likely unintentional, said Diane Benson, a spokeswoman for the agency.

“As an individual, you may not be aware of the contribution limits, or you may have an idea,” Benson said.

“Or, if you did it over the course of a full year, you might forget that you gave some money at the beginning of the year to something, and then later in the year you went to a fundraiser. Sometimes those things happen, and they put you over (the legal limit).”

Indeed, there is a section on candidates’ election campaign returns that deals with contributions returned to donors for those and other reasons.

The over-donations audit, which is done after each campaign, comes as Elections Canada also conducts an investigation into false or misleading robocalls, stemming from complaints that have surfaced in ridings across the country.

The agency’s investigation has centred on the southwestern Ontario riding of Guelph, where a number of residents say they received automated phone calls from someone claiming to be from Elections Canada and directing them to a wrong or non-existent polling station.

While the misleading phone calls appeared to target non-Conservative voters, the Conservative party insists it had no involvement in any such scheme and says it is assisting the investigation.

A shadowy operative known only as “Pierre Poutine” is believed to be behind the calls. However, Elections Canada has not yet been able to find that person.

The investigation is parallel to a Federal Court case that seeks to overturn the outcomes of the last federal election in six closely contested ridings because of alleged voter-suppression tactics.