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Crowded Conservative leadership race means ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’ for party fundraising

By Chelsea Nash      

The party is seeing fewer donations while money from its donor pool is flowing towards leadership campaigns.

Conservative leadership candidates, including, from left, Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Erin O'Toole, and Lisa Raitt, are drawing money away from the Conservative Party, though the party hopes that in the long run, the race draws in more donors. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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The Conservative Party is seeing fewer donations while a portion of the money from its donor pool is flowing towards leadership campaigns.

Communications director for Conservative Party of Canada Cory Hann says any party that’s “even somewhat organized” is going to plan and budget in anticipation of a leadership race.

But, Mr. Hann himself acknowledged that no one was expecting 14 candidates to still be in the race with just four months to go.

That said, the fact that 14 candidates have been able to sustain campaigns for this long means they’re all finding money somewhere. The party has a rule that only $25,000 of all campaign expenses can come from the candidates themselves. The rest has to be fundraised.

“It’s a bit of a short-term pain for a lot of long-term gain,” Mr. Hann said.

While the party might see overall fewer donations while a portion of the money from the conservative donor pool is flowing towards the leadership candidates, in the long run the hope is that the leadership candidates themselves attract more members, and, as a result, more donors to the party.

He said the party is currently looking at its fundraising as a whole, instead of looking at the leadership and the party fundraising as two separate piggy banks.

“There’s no doubt that having essentially 14 other Conservative parties out there competing for mostly the same pool of donations has an effect on what the party brings in,” he said. But looking at it as one number, “fundraising looks good, it looks strong, and there’s a lots of potential for support to grow.”

The party received $585,471.33 in the fourth quarter of 2016 directed to it from leadership contenders. The party takes 10 per cent of all donations to leadership contestants for “administrative fees,” said Mr. Hann.

But the Conservatives were beat by the Liberals in fundraising in the fourth quarter, though not when you add in the total leadership contenders fundraised (which amounted to more than $2.7-million) to the party total. Without the leadership fundraising, though, the Conservatives brought in $5.2-million, less the $585,471.33 from the leadership race, for a total of $4,615,496.01. The Liberals raised a total of $5,805,733.40, and the NDP raised $2,014,236.78.

Including the fundraising from the leadership race, Conservative donors spent a total of $7.4-million, which, according to CBC’s Éric Grenier, would make Q4 2016 the CPC’s best non-election quarter since before 2005.

The top fundraisers in the Conservative leadership race were Maxime Bernier, with $586,165.27 from 3,853 donations and Kellie Leitch with $355,121.42 from 1808 donations.

When MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) dropped out of the leadership race in the fall, he cited a lack of money as his reason. After leaving the race, Mr. Clement said there was “donor fatigue” within the party. The newly released returns from Elections Canada show Mr. Clement raised $37,573.00 from about 45 contributions in the time he spent fundraising in the fourth quarter. Of that sum, the party skimmed off $3,757.30, leaving Mr. Clement with the remaining $33,815.70. 

“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,” he said, speaking to The Hill Times last October.

He also said the party demanded “a lot of money” from the candidates. 

Another complaint of Mr. Clement, was that electoral district associations also often host events featuring leadership candidates, for which they charge a fee to attendees, though candidates themselves receive no money from this. They are seen as a good way for candidates to share their message with the membership in any given riding.

Candidate and MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), said it would be helpful if the EDAs were to at least cover the travel costs of candidates to attend the events.

The candidates had to front a $50,000 non-refundable registration fee by Dec. 31 in order to continue in the race. To officially enter the race, they had to pay $25,000, and another $25,000 had to be paid before the party would hand over its membership list. In addition, each candidate had to pay a $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.

At the time, Mr. Clement said he wasn’t sure if the amount of money the party took from candidates was too much, but he did predict he wouldn’t be the last one to drop out of the race before the entrance fee deadline of Dec. 31, 2016.

Mr. Clement was right, but not by much. Only one other candidate dropped out before the new year: Winnipeg doctor Daniel Lindsay left the race on Dec. 30, having raised only just shy of $30,000 from close to 40 donations.

Former minister of immigration and leadership contestant Chris Alexander said the fact that there’s 14 candidates still able to finance a campaign is a testament to the party’s membership. 

“Who would have thought that 14 of us would still be in the race at this stage?” he said in an email exchange with The Hill Times. Mr. Alexander raised $116,396.00 from 229 donations in the last quarter, putting him in ninth place for fundraising amongst the candidates.

Mr. Obhrai, who came in behind Mr. Alexander and candidate Pierre Lemieux with $108,333.00 from 214 donations, said the crowded race is “absolutely” a challenge when it comes to fundraising.

Initially, Mr. Obhrai said he also thought the entry fees were “pretty high.”

“But now, considering the fact that there are 14 candidates running, the fee is not a barrier,” he said. He said while he might not be raising as much money as his fellow candidates, he has enough money to see his campaign through to the end.

One continuing challenge, he said, was competing with so many other candidates for money, as well as with his own party.

“The party is also going after the same donors,” he said. The Conservative Party has continued with its own fundraising as usual, even recently enlisting former prime minister Stephen Harper to sign an email to supporters, urging them to donate.

In a situation with so much competition vying for support from the same group of people, “You have to kind of market your niche,” Mr. Obhrai said.  

Outsider candidate Rick Peterson has done just that.

“I think we have a real added advantage in that the supporters and donors for my campaign are largely private sector who are not necessarily Conservative members yet,” the businessman, who has strong ties to Vancouver and Montreal, said.

In the fourth quarter, Mr. Peterson raised the least of all current candidates with $71,340 from 110 contributions, though Mr. O’Leary’s fundraising was not included in this quarter because he entered the race later. Mr. Peterson said the bulk of the money he raised came from a Christmas-time fundraising push. 

Mr. Peterson said Conservative members might have noticed they haven’t received a mass email from his campaign asking for donations, and that’s not an oversight.

Conservative Party members are getting “bombarded” with donation requests, he said, so he’s made the decision to not even bother with that tactic so far. His donations have come from “regular people across Canada who know me through business,” he said.

Mr. Peterson believes he is going to win this race because of the number of new members he’s bringing to the party.

For Mr. Hann, therein lies the “long-term gain” he hopes to see for the Conservative Party.

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

Latest fundraising numbers released Tuesday

Elections Canada released the fundraising numbers for political parties from the fourth quarter in 2016. The following is how much money was raised by candidates in the Conservative Party leadership between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. It does not include any data on leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary as he entered the leadership race after the deadline for the fourth quarter.

Maxime Bernier:        $586,165.27 from 3,853 donations

Kellie Leitch:               $355,121.42 from 1808 donations

Andrew Scheer:          $324,545.50 from 994 donations

Erin O’Toole:               $258,943.13 from 816 donations

Michael Chong:           $233,788.49 from 837 donations

Lisa Raitt:                    $181,946.00 from 544 donations

Andrew Saxton:          $133,425.00 from 168 donations

Brad Trost:                  $133,116.48 from 628 donations

Chris Alexander:          $116,396.00 from 229 donations

Pierre Lemieux:           $112,647.00 from 622 donations

Deepak Obhrai:           $108,333.00 from 214 donations

Steven Blaney:             $92,398.16 from 636 donations

Rick Peterson:             $71,340 from 110 donations

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