Saturday, October 18, 2008

Financial Realities and Banning Pre-Writ Election Advertising

From the tables below comparing election spending to the approximate per vote rebates each party will have received this election compared to last we can get a good picture of where the different parties stand financially. The Liberals are clearly in rough financial shape right now which should make those who really want a leadership race ponder whether the party can feasibly afford it (especially with some past candidates who may want to run again not having their debts paid off yet and the donation limits now being $1,100 instead of $5,400 as they were in 2006), but it is obvious that the party that is in the worst financial shape right now relative to the last election is the NDP. They spent $5 million more this time and will be receiving only marginally more back in rebates. They will clearly be unprepared for an electoral campaign for some time and may have to reconsider spending the maximum next time. Regardless BOTH parties will really have to ramp up their fundraising efforts over the next year.

But I do have one idea that I think all opposition parties could get behind that would ensure the Cons financial advantage doesn’t continue to give them an unfair advertising advantage outside the writ period. Simply the opposition parties should band together and pass legislation banning any paid political advertising outside the election period such as TV, radio and paid internet banner ads. Since such legislation wouldn’t technically be a money bill and doesn't direct any spending of taxpayer money I don't see why the opposition couldn't use an opposition day or pass this as private member's bill to have it go through. It is in all the opposition parties' interests, but is also an issue of fairness. We have spending limits in an election campaign for a reason, but the Conservatives flagrantly got around this time by running ads in the week leading up to the writ drop. What stops them from doing that for a full 3 or 4 weeks prior to their next election call? That's hardly a level playing field for an election campaign and makes the spending limits into somewhat of a sham.

Conservatives would oppose banning political advertising outside the writ period on grounds of free speech but I don’t see how this would be much different from a constitutional standpoint than election spending limits during campaigns or limiting the amount individuals can donate to political parties (the latter of which Conservatives have constrained further). I also hardly think we'd see many Canadians oppose shielding them from year round election ads, in fact I think it's something that would find majority support, as I'm pretty sure that for most Canadians the only time they want to think about politics is election time and would rather see commercials about something else outside the writ period.I believe many cities already have rules banning election advertising in gas stations as I seem to recall from the oily escapades.

I realize I'm no election law expert and this may prove difficult to enforce in practice, but I'd thought at least throw the idea out there and I'm curious what other Liberals and members of other parties would think about this. If the Liberals, NDP and Bloc don't band together to pass something like this though I don't see how the Conservatives would be stopped from dominating the airwaves with only their message for the foreseeable future.

Electoral Rebates Relative to Election Spending

2006 Election


# of Votes

Electoral Rebate

Approximate Amount Spent on Election

Difference Between Amount Spent and Rebate











Bloc Québécois



Unable to find


New Democrats








Unable to find


* Of course Elections Canada is still looking into whether Conservatives illegally exceeded
the election spending cap by an additional $1.1 million

2008 Election


# of Votes

Electoral Rebate

Approximate Amount Spent on Election

Difference Between Amount Spent and Rebate

Difference in Shortfall Between 2008-2006













Bloc Québécois



Unable to find



New Democrats












Note: I know the numbers in these tables are not exact. They are based only on the info I could find. I am under the impression that the rebate was $1.75 per vote in 2006 and is $1.93 now. Anyone can feel free to correct me in the comments if they have better information and I will update these tables accordingly. As well I know that the per vote rebate isn't the only rebate Elections Canada distributes as I believe they also reimburse any candidate who receives at least 10% of the vote in their riding 60% of their election expenses. The Jurist notes in the comments that approximately half of parties election expenses end up being re-imbursed by Elections Canada on the whole aside from the per vote rebate. Still by comparing the per vote rebate from this time to last time it gives us a good idea of where the parties stand financially (in terms of public subsidies) after this election compared to last.

Note2: Blogger seems to be giving me trouble formatting these tables properly. If anyone still can't read any of the info in the tables please note it in the comments. Thanks!

UPDATE: For some added context here are the latest available fundraising numbers for the three months ending June 30:
Conservatives: $3.5 million from 33,833 contributors
Liberals: $912,378 from 9,556 contributors.
NDP: $711,637 from 11,941 contributors
Green party: $213,922 from 3,184 contributors
Bloc Quebecois: $36,698 from 607 contributors.

Even though the NDP had more contributors this is still further evidence that they are worse financial shape than the Liberals after having spent the same amount in this election and received back substantially less in rebates. Though of course this is just one quarter and not a full representation of how much party had at its disposal going into the election.

I do hope the Liberal numbers will be much higher when the next quarterly numbers up to September 30th are released but regardless it is clear we have a lot to improve in the year ahead in terms of fundraising and it should be a top priority. The Victory Fund was a strong initiative but it should only be the start of much more to come. I think we have a lot to learn from the Obama campaign in the U.S. that has succeeded in finally overcoming a traditional Democratic weakness in fundraising. If we can even replicate a fraction of his success we will be strong financially again but it will take incredibly hard work and bold ideas to make it happen. I'll obviously be happy to promote any new fundraising initiatives that come about in the near future.

In the meantime I hope there is serious consideration of ways to formally curtail political advertising outside the writ period.

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Ann D said...

I really like the idea. I think we need a law that will support the endless campaigning that occurred during the previous Harper government (e.g., the endless attack ads; the constituency mail-outs that were actually CPC promo pieces; etc.) There is a lot of work to do in this area. Thank you for doing all this number crunching.

Ann D

jenn said...

Danielle - i don't have any inside info but one might want to consider that the NDP had a much greater level of enthusiasm from longtime and new supporters than did the LPC. Their fundraising numbers were considerably better than the LPC prior to the election and I would imagine that this has only solidified thanks to their election performance.

There are interesting numbers here:

Clearly the Greens benefit most this election in terms of growth but I question whether they will be able to sustain it given that a civil war is brewing.

The NDP shows the best showing in terms of their being the second choice for Canadians. That shows real potential for growth the LPC - not as much.

The Jurist said...

Danielle: One other factor worth including is the rebate for actual election expenses. 50% of all valid party expenses are reimbursed by Elections Canada (separate from the annual payment per vote) - meaning that the effective cost of election expenses is half of the raw number.

As for the respective party positions, I'd suspect there's some difference in how much the Libs and NDP have spent between elections since the Libs are accustomed to having more money at their disposal - but I'm not sure of that off hand.

ch said...

I'm not sure NDP fundraising was "consistently better than" the Liberal's, as I think some was up and some was down relative to the Liberals. Of course, the fact that they are even comparable is bad news for the Liberals. We will soon see what the period just before and during the election yielded (the quarter to Sept 30/08). Also, another leadership review will definitely eat into the Liberal's cash, no question about it, even if they do it cheaper this time.

I agree the second choice showing looks good for the NDP. On the other hand, I was struck by the fact that their fraction of the vote moved little and their absolute votes went down after spending considerably more money and running a smooth campaign with little flak. Layton already used up his "running for PM" gambit and stayed in fourth place with only 18.2% of the vote. I'd have to say it was a mixed bag for the NDP with increased seats due to a poor Liberal showing but other indicators not looking so great. Of course, this is much better than the Liberals, with a poor showing all round.

WesternGrit said...

I've also blogged about the need for strict "pre and post writ" spending restrictions. We need to take it one step further... Politicians try to "mail in" their campaign and basically win without any contact with voters, local media, etc. What the mass national ads have done is create a state where the leader is all-important, and no-one sees or hears from the local candidates. This needs to change, if we want to bring elections "closer to the people" - unless we want to end up like the US.

Best way to control this, and bring politicians closer to the people, is to severely limit advertising, ensure all parties advertise equally (meaning better, more informative ads, and everyone gets their platform heard), and cut spending limits period.

We can pass this, in this minority Parliament...

janfromthebruce said...

Actually, the NDP went into the election "well endowed." One needs to go back for the whole year numbers to know this, but the NDP raised more money than the libs in the previous 3 quarters.
In the major races, there was no debt incurred by the riding as they ended up with more money than they could legally spend. Which means they are in good shape for the next election.
The NDP is in good shape, and remember, we haven't been having repetitive "costly" leadership races.
In fact when Jack was elected, my family, all 5 card carrying members, were connected electronically, and that is how we voted. So much cheaper, and democratic - 1 vote per member. That makes it more democratic so that all members - no matter their financial means - can vote.
And this leaves more $ to donate to the party than wasting money are expensive travel, hotel, and food costs. I call that smart!

Danielle Takacs said...

Perhaps this should have been two separate posts. I'm much more interested in hearing people's views on limiting political advertising outside the writ period than quibbling about exactly how much money each party has in the bank.

The NDP will end up receving about $2 million less than the Liberals in rebates after spending the same amount this election. Whether they can easily make up that shortfall or not it still leaves them in fairly rough financial shape and I'm not sure why NDPers would be in denial about their financial situation when Liberals are fully willing to discuss their own.

I agree that leadership can be a major distraction from overall party fundraising though the conventions themselves do raise money and likely bring in more members than would have otherwise been the case. I'm undecided on one member-one vote for now though as there are many pros and cons of the system. But doing that strictly would eliminate the influence that youth, women and seniors currently have within a delegated convention system. We did vote on this at our last convention (I won't say for now how I voted then)...But that's an ENTIRELY separate issue for another day.

Anyways I'd like to hear more about what people think about the other part on the post on election advertising....

janfromthebruce said...

So Daniel when did you become the financial agent of the NDP party. You had two people connected to the party who are stating to you that the NDP is not.
One person has already challenged you that your math calculation does not take into consideration all the revenue streams that come into a party coffers. You next, in so many words, called us liers. Thanks for being so righteous.

And take note, as I said just before the election, the NDP candidate won in Welland and the liberal was 3rd. You were wrong in that regard, so perhaps you might opinions of others who would have more information about their party than an outsider. Thanks.

janfromthebruce said...

Westerngrit, I don't think that the NDP would agree with equal spending on advertising and so on. Nor, if I understand you, "cut spending limits period."
Are you saying that you could spend as much as one wants??? Than why limit equal spending on advertising? This seems counterproductive.
I believe the NDP would not agree to this proposal is because the MSM is not very friendly to the NDP nominally in comparison to the libs and cons. So the liberals have the Liberal Star and CBC. The cons have canwest and so on. Nay, the NDP needs to advertise to get our message out.

Danielle Takacs said...

Jan: I don't think anyone was called a liar. Those other revenue streams that were pointed out go to all parties by about an equal amount. The per vote rebate seemed a reasonable standard by which to compare different parties' financial states but I did note its limitations in the post.

The Liberals went into the election as well in reasonably good financial shape and lots of ridings are still in excellent financial shape having raised enough to fund two elections. But I choose not to focus on that because the reality is that both our parties are getting less back in rebates compared to what we spent in the last election. The NDP spent $5 million more this time and is getting about the same amount back in per vote rebates as they did last time. Yes they are getting back other rebates as well but so are the other parties - regardless they spent much more this time and ended up getting less absolute votes than last time. If that's what the NDP expected and they were financially prepared for that then ok fine.

There is little to gain about quibbling about who has exactly how much money, the table I presented provided data that didn't favour one party over the other and gave at least one indicator of public subsidies after the election.

Either way in my view I think it's better to look at what things need improving after an election then just saying everything is fine. There's no incentive to improve anything then.

Danielle Takacs said...

Jan: And if you oppose limits on advertising outside the writ period you might note that the Tories still hold at least a 3:1 financial advantage over the other parties so they will outgun the NDP in any air war outside a campaign. So if your goal is take any votes away from Harper then supporting a policy that would see political advertising limited to teh campaign period only should be in your interests not to mention it does level the playing field financially.

Who was the ONLY party that ran ads in the week before this past election? What stops them from doing for the 3 or 4 weeks prior next time? They have the money to do it, no other party will.

sharonapple88 said...

Danielle, I like the idea of banning political advertising outside of the writ period. It's just damn annoying, and there's the question of whether it's a way of avoiding spending limits on an election (spend before).

Jennifer Smith said...

My concern is that, even if they ban 'political' advertising outside of the writ period, the Conservatives will simply ramp up the sort of nonsense they've been defending as 'informing the public' (i.e. those annoying ten-percenters), and in the process put it all on the public dime.

If such a law were to work, it would have to be very specific in what is considered partisan and what is legitimate government communications. I think a couple of obvious restrictions should be 'no mentioning the opposition' and 'no mentioning the name of your party when talking about the government'.

Christian Conservative said...

Oh boo hoo... "The Tories have way more money than we do so we need to find a way to make sure they can't spend any of it."

The simple fact is that your Liberals have been able to spin and smear us via the media for years. But now, since more Canadians contribute their hard earned dollars to us via donations (as opposed to theft a la Sponsorship) we're able to go over the heads of the Liberal media to fight your party's spin machine via paid advertising.

Let's face reality here... your party has attacked us with baseless and false allegations for years, and through our better fundraising efforts, we're able to fight back for the first time in 20 years... AND YOU'RE CRYING FOUL? GIVE ME A BREAK!!!

You reap what you sow... and your party is finally reaping the whirlwhind.

Danielle Takacs said...

CC: Conservatives claim to support eleciton spending limits during a campaign. They flagrantly got aroud them by running ads in the one week leading up to the writ. It makes a mockery of those limits, especially since only the government knows for sure when the election call will actually be so they remain the only party that could plan a pre-writ ad buy appropriately. Conservatives have abused the rules and taken advantage of their position in government to co-ordinate their ad buys. Something should be done to level the playing field or else they are made into somwhat of a sham as one party spends 5x more outside the writ than the others outside the writ and we have election spending limits for a reason.

If you want to talk about free speech why did you support lowering donation limits from $5400to $1100. You say we shouldn't constrain how a party spends its money but then you want to constrain how much an individual can support that party. Not very consistent.

Btw I recognize Liberals had a very rough night Tuesday, but weren't you confidently predicting a Conservative rout in Guelph? What happened CC?