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Steep fees for Tory leadership race means more candidates will drop by 2017: Clement

By Chelsea Nash      

Ex-candidate Tony Clement says there is 'donor fatigue' in the party.

Tony Clement dropped out the Conservative leadership race last week due to fundraising challenges. 'The party makes it expensive,' he said. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Tony Clement was the first Conservative leadership candidate to back out of the race, but he says he won’t be the last.

Backing out last week because of fundraising challenges, Mr. Clement told The Hill Times he’s certain others will be forced to do the same when faced with paying the full $100,000 fee due to the Conservative Party of Canada. He said some of the candidates are running their campaigns on a “shoestring” budget that they won’t be able to sustain into the new year.

“That will separate the wheat from the chaff, and there will be three or four viable campaigns and that’s it,” he said in a phone interview after announcing Oct. 12 that he would drop out. He had joined the race in July.

The hefty sum includes a $50,000 non-refundable registration fee, $25,000 of which must be paid before the campaign is considered official, with the other $25,000 paid before the party will hand over its membership list. Each candidate must pay another $50,000 refundable compliance deposit by Dec. 31 (or upon entry into the race after that date), which will be returned later as long as the candidate abides by party regulations. As per Elections Canada rules, the candidates are only allowed to contribute $25,000 of their own funds. Everything else must come from donors.

“The party makes it expensive, because they demand $100,000 by Dec. 31, and they also demand 10 per cent of each dollar raised goes to the party,” Mr. Clement told The Hill Times.

He said he didn’t know how to answer a question asking if he thought the party demanded too much money from its candidates.

‘So we become the fundraising machines for everybody else but ourselves, in essence.’

“I’m just saying it’s a lot of money,” he said. Mr. Clement said the party replaces its own fundraising efforts with those of the leadership candidates, “and then take[s] a piece of that.” He said he understands needing to raise money for the party even while a campaign is taking place, “but it’s almost killing the goose [that] lay[s] the golden egg, because many campaigns will not be able to sustain that beyond Dec. 31, that’s my prediction.”

Mr. Clement said in addition, electoral district associations invite candidates to campaign forums, “which you can’t really say no to.” The problem, however, is that the campaign forums then become fundraisers for the EDAs, not the candidates.

“So we become the fundraising machines for everybody else but ourselves, in essence,” he said.

Maxime Hupé, speaking on behalf of his candidate, Maxime Bernier, said the fees were the fees. He said it is Mr. Bernier’s first leadership campaign, so having nothing to compare it to, he would not be able to say whether the party was asking too much.

Mr. Clement said he thinks his fundraising challenges stemmed from some poor timing, a “very crowded field,” as well as “donor fatigue” within the party.

“We’re still grappling with not being in power, and losing the election. And so people are hedging, and are not committing to the extent that I would have foreseen,” the former cabinet minister said. “So I made a realistic decision.”

Mr. Hupé also said that Mr. Bernier has not had any problems bringing in money, despite the crowded race. Mr. Hupé said the latest numbers for the Bernier campaign are $450,000 raised, from approximately 1,500 donors. Mr. Hupé said he would not discuss fundraising strategy, but that “it has nothing to do with a different way of raising money. All the candidates have the same tools, the same list. The difference with Maxime’s campaign is people enjoy his policy announcements.”

The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

There are six candidates officially registered in the race, with several others having publicly committed, without yet having paid their initial $25,000.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Clement issued a press release saying that he and his campaign did not reach “a series of benchmarks” to his satisfaction. “Upon review of my campaign, and financial realities of this race, I have made the decision to end my campaign.”

Speaking to The Hill Times after the announcement, Mr. Clement said he did not want to the financial burden of campaign debt on his family.

“Even after you…give all this money to the party, you still have to tour around the country, you still have to communicate, you still have to be able to generate excitement, with rallies and other things. The costs are only going to skyrocket from here. And that’s where it became untenable for me. I believe others will come to the same conclusion,” he said.

Tim Powers, a Conservative commentator, and vice-chair at Summa Strategies, said to keep a campaign going, “you’re going to need a half a million, or a million bucks.”

He said the bare minimum would be a few hundred thousand dollars, outside of campaign fees, such as the $100,000 fee to the party. The spending limit for this leadership campaign is $5-million.

Mr. Powers said he thought the fees the Conservative Party was demanding of their candidates were “fair,” because they proved the candidate could bring in money.

“If you’re going to be a serious candidate, then you gotta be able to raise money,” he said. The party still has to run while the campaign is happening, and with the candidates reaching out to all the usual Conservative donors, the party money has got to come from somewhere.

He also said he expected several campaigns to fold before the new year due to fundraising challenges.

Mr. Clement said he did not know the exact number his campaign had managed to raise in the end, but that it was “not the amount that was shown in iPolitics,” referring to an iPolitics report last week that quoted “a source linked to the campaign” as saying his campaign had raised an estimated $12,000.

That said, Mr. Clement said it wasn’t enough “to make a substantive difference.”  

John Laschinger, a career campaign manager, said in his experience, money is secondary to the success of a campaign.

“First of all, do they think they’ve got something to offer? Do they think they can make a difference? After that, once they decide they think they’re the best person, then they will figure out how to do it,” he said.

Mr. Laschinger, who just came out with a new book called Campaign Confessions, said in the book, he talks about 10 or 15 campaigns. “Half of them, the winner spent the most money, half of them, the winner spent less than a bunch of other people. So there’s no correlation,” he said.

In the last Conservative leadership race in 2004, Mr. Laschinger was working for Belinda Stronach’s campaign. He said Ms. Stronach ended up spending $5-million. The winner, Stephen Harper, spent significantly less than that, he said, but still won.

“All you need to spend is enough money to stay in the race. As long as you have enough to pay the rent, the heat, and a few staff members, you can stay in,” he said. But, he said Mr. Clement likely made a sensible decision in his scenario.

“Each candidate has an onus on him or herself to sit down with the campaign manager before the campaign starts, and say ‘How much am I comfortable with as a shortfall?’” he said. “At the end of the campaign, the campaign is over, the balloons have burst, and you’re sitting in the office the next morning, and you’re looking at a pile of bills. How much should those bills be?”

Bernier, Leitch, appear to be strong in fundraising

Last week, The Ottawa Citizen reported that a source in Kellie Leitch’s campaign said her team had also raised about $450,000 from more than 1,000 donors by the end of September.

Bram Sepers, from Michael Chong’s campaign, told The Hill Times the campaign would not be releasing any fundraising information on its own. That information would eventually become public through Elections Canada.

Hamish Marshall, speaking for Andrew Scheer’s campaign, said “we are very pleased with our fundraising success so far,” but said the updated numbers would be released at the end of the quarter.

Spokespeople for other declared candidates, Ms. Leitch, Brad Trost, and Deepak Obhrai did not respond to requests from The Hill Times for updated fundraising amounts.

cnash@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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