What really happened inside the Alberta UCP’s ’kamikaze’ campaign

New evidence shows it was backed in part by a quiet $60,000 payment from a corporate entity into the personal account of a staffer
Jeff Callaway (Chris Bolin)

Alberta United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and his senior campaign team aided and coordinated with a ‘kamikaze’ candidate to undermine rival Brian Jean during a 2017 leadership contest; further, that candidate was improperly funded, according to his campaign staffer who has offered a detailed account of the allegation for the first time.

Cam Davies, who said he worked on the UCP leadership campaign of Jeff Callaway as a communications manager, also admitted to facilitating the funding of Callaway’s campaign in a way that allegedly contravened Alberta law.

Davies said he received a transfer from a corporate entity of $60,000 into his personal bank account that, he alleges, was then re-distributed to Callaway’s campaign account to pay the candidate’s entry fee to the leadership contest. He said the origin of the money was then obfuscated, in part through fake donors whom he helped to obtain. Personal bank documents obtained by Maclean’s confirm the $60,000 payment to Davies.

There is no evidence that Jason Kenney or his team played any role in facilitating the payment of Callaway’s entry fee.

Donations made to the Callaway campaign are now being investigated by both the Alberta Election Commissioner, and the RCMP.

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Only days before the writ is expected to drop, Maclean’s, along with several other media outlets, received a trove of documents and emails showing that senior members of Jason Kenney’s campaign team worked closely with Callaway’s staff. The documents show that the Callaway campaign shared information on matters such as speech scripting, talking points, strategy, campaign timelines, and media interviews. Emails also suggest that several of Callaway’s videos and attack ad graphics—all aimed at Brian Jean—were actually produced by Jason Kenney’s staff and then sent to the Callaway camp.

Davies said that the Callaway and Kenney staff operated “hand in glove” with regard to various other aspects of the campaign. “I was in constant communication with Matt Wolf and Blaise Boehmer, both members of the Jason Kenney team, in relation to attack ads, graphics…preparation of various speeches that Jeff Callaway was to deliver. From start to finish, literally from his launch speech to his debate prep attack lines, to his final speech endorsing Jason Kenney,” Davies said. “Whether it was the content being delivered to me, or me running content by Jason’s team, the collaboration was definitely a two-way street.”

Davies himself is a polarizing political operative within the inner niches of Alberta politics; his CV includes several roles within Conservative circles, he’s run several local riding campaigns, worked as constituency assistant for Calgary-Midnapore and was the president of a Wildrose Party riding association. He’s also tried, unsuccessfully, to run for several nominations in recent years.

According to a statement from the UCP executive director Janice Harrington: “Mr. Kenney’s campaign has previously and repeatedly confirmed that there was communication between the Kenney leadership campaign and the Callaway leadership campaign. As we have previously said, communication between leadership campaigns is perfectly normal in a preferential ballot election and was within the rules of the 2017 UCP Leadership Election.”

Harrington also maintained Kenney’s previous denials with regard to financing. Kenney said that his campaign did not send funds to Callaway’s campaign, nor did it transfer funds to individuals for that purpose. On March 15, Kenney told reporters: “I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about how they financed their campaign.”

Callaway has been described at various points as a “stalking horse,” “dark horse” or “kamikaze” candidate—that he entered the race solely to do damage to Jason Kenney’s main rival Brian Jean. However, Callaway has repeatedly denied this.

“I was running to win. Any other characterization of the race is inaccurate,” he told Maclean’s: “While all campaigns communicate, I was throughout the campaign solely focused on winning the leadership.”

According to Davies, Callaway was not the first pick to run as a “dark horse” candidate in the leadership race. Initially, that role was to fall to Derek Fildebrandt, a Wildrose MLA who became a UCP MLA after the parties merged.

Fildebrandt told Maclean’s that he discussed the prospect of running a campaign against Jean with Kenney at a Keg restaurant in Calgary; Fildebrandt said that he was not enthusiastic about the proposal, and that the discussion occurred at Kenney’s initiative.

In a December interview with Global News, Kenney denied any discussions of this nature: “No, there was no discussion about anything, of any backroom deals or anything like that. It was just me asking for his support and him saying he was going to test his own possible campaign.”

Derek Fildebrandt was subsequently kicked out of the UCP caucus after it was revealed that he was renting out his taxpayer-funded Edmonton apartment on AirBnB. He was also found guilty of a minor hit-and-run accident, and a hunting violation. Fildebrandt went on to form the Freedom Conservative Party.

In recent weeks, he appears to have re-aligned himself with Brian Jean, even posting on Facebook that the pair had “buried the hatchet.”

Rumours have also abounded in Alberta politics over the past week that Brian Jean is planning a pre-writ comeback by taking over the leadership of Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party amid the turmoil of an ongoing investigation into the Callaway affair. However, as the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties were merging in 2017, Fildebrandt and Jean were not so friendly.

In early July of that year, Fildebrandt hosted several friends and advisors at his family cottage in Ghost Lake to discuss the possibility of his running in the leadership to wound Brian Jean.

“The meeting was to discuss the Dark Horse style campaign that had ideally been floated around, and some concerns around Derek Fildebrandt being that candidate and, potentially, Jeff Callaway instead being that candidate for Jason Kenney,” Davies said. “Derek Fildebrandt was in agreement that maybe somebody else would be better suited to this type of a dark horse campaign.”

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Fildebrandt confirmed this meeting took place, adding: “Callaway was discussed as a potential alternative if I did not run,” and noted that many of the people at his cottage that day went on to work for Callaway.

Another attendee, Happy Mann, who has long been active in conservative and Wildrose circles, also confirmed the meeting.

Davies said he was then invited to attend a planning session at Callaway’s house to discuss the coming campaign. This took place on July 19, he said. Several emails leaked to left-leaning media outlet Press Progress confirm that date.

According to Mann, who was also present: “That’s where, actually, the whole kamikaze was planned.”

Both Mann and Davies said Kenney was both present and an active participant in the July 19 meeting. Also present were John Weissenberger, Kenney’s campaign manager, who declined to answer specific questions about this story, and Shuvaloy Majumdar, who works for Harper & Associates, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s consulting firm. Majumdar did not respond to requests for comment.

Kenney’s spokesperson did not answer specific questions about the July 19 meeting.

“Jason Kenney’s team was certainly not united in the belief that they needed a dark horse candidate, but by the end of the conversation, when opinions were given, it was quite unanimous that they wanted Jeff to do this,” Davies said.

Though Kenney united the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose Parties with impressive speed and buy-in from grassroots party members, as of 2017, there were still concerns that he would be unable to maintain the loyalty and support of former Wildrose members over that party’s previous leader, Brian Jean.

Davies said the team noted that Kenney’s personal popularity numbers were not high, that he had been damaged by the recent Progressive Conservative Party leadership race, and that former Wildrose Party members, in particular, did not seem to like him.

“Many Wildrose members at the table brought up points that Jason’s team maybe didn’t fully understand Albertans, and maybe didn’t fully understand, in particular, Wildrose members. And that in order for Jason to win the leadership race, a significant portion of Wildrose members had to be convinced to vote for Jason Kenney or not vote at all,” Davies said.

The only real point of contention during the meeting, Davies added, was that Kenney felt that Callaway should leave the race early and endorse him, rather than carry on to the end.

“(Kenney) wanted Jeff in for as long as it was valuable, and once the damage had been inflicted, for Jeff to withdraw and support him,” Davies said.

Mann added that the dark horse candidacy of Callaway—who had previously served as president of the Wildrose Party—would allow Kenney to stay above the fray. That dynamic was evident at subsequent debates between the potential leaders, in which Callaway appeared to be focused on attacking Jean.

As for the financing of Callaway’s campaign, Mann said: “I put that question, from where is the financing going to come? I had been told on the table that it will be raised. So who was arranging and what happened behind the scenes? Whether the two campaigns were arranging or one person arranging, I don’t know.”

Jeff Callaway’s leadership donation disclosures show that Mann and two of his relatives donated $3,000 each—a total of $9,000—to Callaway’s campaign.

When asked whether that money came from Mann directly, Mann noted that these donations were under investigation and would say only: “My statement is always that I was helping Jason Kenney from day one. From where the money got arranged, they have to answer whether Happy’s money was Happy’s money or not Happy’s money. They have to answer that.”

When Maclean’s asked Callaway to comment about the July 19 meeting, he said: “I deny that there was a request that I run as a so-called ‘dark horse’ candidate. It simply did not happen. Jason Kenney sought my support as the former long-time president of the Wildrose. In response, I informed him in clear terms that I was considering a run for the leadership of the UCP.”

Davies went on to work for the Callaway campaign, during which time, documents show, he was in regular contact with senior Kenney campaign staffer Wolf. Davies even sent speeches, an extensive communications plan, and timeline for Callaway’s departure from the race to Wolf.

Throughout, the focus of Callaway’s attacks remained on Jean; on the caucus deficit Jean oversaw during his time as leader of the Wildrose Party, and the former federal MP’s comments on equalization while in Ottawa, for example.

Then, in September, Davies said he received a call. The Callaway team appeared to be in a panic over a $57,000 entry fee—which Callaway’s campaign would need to pay to the party to ensure he could participate in debates and continue with the leadership race.

Those funds needed to come from the campaign’s account, Davies said.

“I was approached by Callaway to meet up with an associate of his—Mr. Robyn Lore—to go to a bank to accept a large transfer of funds, withdraw those funds and, in short, deliver them in person to Callaway who met us at the bank that day. Those funds would then be assigned to various names on paper to make donations so that the deposit and election fees could be met by the deadline in order to keep Jeff Callaway in the debates,” he said.

This may have been a contravention of the Alberta Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, which stipulates that individuals are permitted to donate a maximum of $4,000 to any combination of a party, constituency association, candidate, nomination contestant or leadership contestant.

Further, the name of the donors must be recorded and reported in financial disclosures to Elections Alberta. Donors cannot submit money on behalf of anyone else; the money must originate with the person listed on the disclosure form.

Davies’ personal bank statement shows that on Sept. 11, 2017, he received a transfer of $60,000 from an entity listed as “Agropyron.” According to an Alberta corporate registries search, the sole director of Agropyron Enterprises Ltd. is Robyn Lore.

The bank document shows that the $60,000 was then immediately transferred or withdrawn in several tranches; Davies said about half of the money was distributed to “donors” that he admits he helped obtain for the Callaway campaign.

A further $33,515 was withdrawn in cash. According to Davies, this money was handed to Callaway directly at the bank.

“There was a lot of confusion over what was allowed and what wasn’t with the new elections financial act,” Davies said. “My understanding at the time is that there were third-party advertiser groups accepting corporate donations and that this was an individual who wanted to give a corporate donation, but the campaign had learned you couldn’t transfer funds between PAC groups.”

“This was expressed to me that this was a way around that, effectively a loophole around that.”

Davies said that as he respected the men involved, and in the fervor of the moment, he consented to redistribute the money through his personal account.

“I was asked to do something that in hindsight I shouldn’t have assisted with by any means. This was something that I feel horrible about participating in and knowing what I know now, certainly wouldn’t have done,” he said.

The “donors” Davies found all appear on Callaway’s financial disclosures, listed as having given amounts under the legal $4,000 limit.

Davies himself is facing fines of $15,000 from the Alberta Elections Commissioner for charges of obstructing a commission’s investigation. He said he plans to appeal that fine and is cooperating fully with the commissioner.

For his part, Callaway fully denies Davies’ allegations. “I did not receive any campaign funds at a bank or otherwise. I have never been at a bank with Robyn Lore. The campaign CFO [Chief Financial Officer], not myself, handled deposits and accounting. I have no knowledge of the creation of false donor records and neither does my CFO. I am satisfied that she did not create false donor records and she was the only one authorized to accept donations to the campaign,” he told Maclean’s in a statement.

 Maclean’s attempts to reach Callaway’s CFO have been unsuccessful.

Lore also offered a statement to Maclean’s: “A company I control loaned Cam Davies $60,000. I do not know what he did with it. The Alberta elections commissioner has contacted me about donations to the Jeff Callaway campaign and I did make a $2,000 donation to the campaign. I would like to emphasize that I have made similar donations to most of the political parties. I think in the context of the news reports it is also important to emphasize that all the funds for the loan to Cam Davies or any of my campaign donations came from money I or my company earned. There has been no involvement by Jason Kenney or any of his affiliates or benefits received from anyone.”

Davies said he did not understand the transfer to be a loan, nor has he repaid any of it. Rather, he expected the cash to be re-distributed back into Callaway’s campaign account.

According to Callaway’s financial disclosure to Elections Alberta, Lore is recorded as having donated $2,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign. He also gave $850 to Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign.

Lore is, indeed, a regular donor to several political parties, including a Calgary federal Liberal candidate in 2008. Public financial disclosures also show he donated $1,500 to various third party organizations in 2017. In 2015, he donated $6,000 to the Wildrose Party, and a total of $1,150 to Jeff Callaway, who was running as a candidate in Calgary North West at that time.

On the 2017 UCP leadership race, Callaway added: “My leadership campaign strategy required that I capitalize on my profile as the long time President of the Wildrose Party and my demonstrated track record with the Wildrose membership,” he wrote in a statement. “It became clear during the course of the campaign that I did not have the ‘Get Out The Vote’ organization to be successful. Therefore, I decided to leave the race and make the choice more clear for voters. Presently, I wish the UCP well and remain very supportive, but, after nine years of intense involvement, I am no longer active in party politics.”

Blaise Boehmer, who worked on Jason Kenney’s campaign as a director of communications, said he recalled coordinating a news release with Callaway’s team that discussed Callaway’s decision to endorse Kenney before pulling out of the race.

“I do find it frustrating and disappointing to see a group of bad actors on the losing side of the UCP leadership race wage a sustained campaign of rumour and innuendo, with the goal of undermining Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives on the eve of one of the most important elections in Alberta history,” he told Maclean’s in a statement.

“It’s clear Brian Jean and his small inner circle want to re-fight the UCP leadership in the media, and I certainly expect this feeble attempt to re-litigate a race Jean lost to continue, effectively doing the dirty work of the NDP.”

Several Callaway donors and supporters have already been penalized in connection with their involvement with the Callaway campaign. Karen Brown was fined $3,500 by the Alberta Elections Commissioner for donating to Callaway using funds from another source.

Callaway’s former campaign manager, Randy Kerr—who did not respond to Maclean’s for a request for comment—was disqualified by the UCP for running as a candidate in Calgary Beddington for “not sufficiently forthcoming with the party’s earlier inquiries” with regards to his financial contributions to the Callaway campaign. Davies awaits his appeal.

-with files from Jason Markusoff