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Tories outpace Grit fundraising, but Liberals tighten the gap

By Samantha Wright Allen      

NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh reports an impressive first fundraising push. His $356,784 is more than his competitors combined for the second quarter.

The Conservative Party led second-quarter fundraising during the last leg of its leadership race and Andrew Scheer's first month heading the party. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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The Conservative Party outpaced the Liberals again in second-quarter donations even as Tory fundraising fell by $1.2-million, while the governing Grits tried to tighten the gap.

Amid the tail end of their leadership race, the Tories raised $4,073,664 between April to June compared to $3,023,955 raised by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who fared slightly better this quarter than last, when they reported $2.8-million.

Last quarter, which ended in March, more than $2.5-million separated the Liberals from the Conservatives, after the Tories raised $5.3-million, according to financial returns filed with Elections Canada.

The NDP raised $825,985 between April and June, representing the party’s worst showing in six quarters. But the party has pointed to momentum from its leadership race as an answer to its financial woes, following 2016 annual returns lagging behind recent years and showing the party has $5.5-million worth of debt.

Elections Canada data shows both the Conservatives and Liberals saw a fundraising dip in the second quarter, closing the gap between the two. The Hill Times graph

The Tories’ results are a case of conventional wisdom proven wrong, said former Conservative staffer Chad Rogers.

“Despite a lot of folks saying team Trudeau is invincible and the assumption that a leadership [contest] would drain the fundraising capacity of the party, the team running the Conservative [campaign] has overachieved,” said Mr. Rogers, a partner at public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. “The Conservatives defied that trend, maybe created some new rules.”

The second quarter captured the close of the Conservative Party’s marathon leadership race, which Summa Strategies vice-president Robin MacLachlan said was “impressive, to be frank, but they also had millionaires running for leader, and they had 13 leadership candidates and a couple tapping into the very vigorous social conservative movement.”

“I think a lot of the additional money that came into the leadership came in through the networks of [Kevin] O’Leary and Maxime Bernier [Beauce, Que.] who are wealthy individuals who have wealthy networks, while the Conservatives were still able to tap their base on issue-based campaigns,” said Mr. MacLachlan, a former NDP staffer.

It is not normal for the opposition to consistently beat the governing party at fundraising, said Mr. Rogers. It’s been the trend “quarter after quarter after quarter”—aside from December 2016 when Liberals raised $5.8-million to the Conservatives’ $4.6-million, and the previous quarter, ending September, when they were almost even.

“We’re almost two years into this new government, [which] has very high approval ratings. They have a very strong organizational game, they have high-quality digital communications, but yet the opposition party is still consistently beating them in numbers of donors and in total volume of donations.”

Last year’s move by Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to open the party up to new members by cancelling fees may be having a “drag-on effect on fundraising.”

“When you give permission to people to stop having a financial relationship with you, does that impact small donations and donations ongoing?” Mr. Rogers said.

Second-quarter results show 32,427 contributors to the Conservative Party compared to 30,149 for the Liberals.

Second-quarter results show 32,427 contributors to the Conservative Party, down from 42,473 the previous quarter. That still beat the 30,149 Liberal contributors in Q2, down from 31,812 reported in Q1. The Hill Times graph 

But former Liberal MP Joe Jordan said the latest quarter shows the Grits are closing the gap, and it’s no secret the Conservatives have a strong machine.

In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals announced new fundraising rules for its party, saying it would publicly post events featuring cabinet ministers and report guest lists. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

“The Tories traditionally have been much better at fundraising than the Liberals have, especially after the changes ending corporate donations [at the federal level],” said Mr. Jordan.

“If you look back to the Reform Party and its roots as populous grassroots party, that positioned them well for grassroots fundraising, which is what we have now. The Liberals have never caught up to the Tories in terms of their mechanism for getting the under-$200 [donations.]”

Mr. Jordan said he’s seeing his party increasing its pitches. The Liberals emailed a fundraising appeal the morning Elections Canada was set to release the numbers, and another calling to “close the gap” when the numbers were public.

“I think they’ve recognized that they need to ramp up their fundraising. I think they’ve done that,” said Mr. Jordan, senior associate at Bluesky Strategy Group Inc.

Both he and Mr. MacLachlan made note of the recent Conservative Party efforts to fundraise off of the government apology and $10.5-million payout to former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

News of the Khadr deal broke in early July after the reporting deadline for the second quarter, so Mr. Jordan said any effect would be felt in the third quarter. A July Abacus Data poll suggested Liberal Party support remained strong after the move, with 43 per cent of decided voters with the party compared to 31 per cent for the Tories. The latest Nanos federal poll, released Aug. 1, puts the Liberals at 36.7 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 29.1 per cent and the NDP at 20 per cent.

“[The Conservatives have] always done well at issues-based fundraising which is a complement to the party machinery, but the problem is the issues they like to fundraise on divide Canadians and political leaders should unify Canadians,” said Mr. MacLachlan.

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann said the party has had its best first six months of a non-election year in its history. He noted leadership candidates raised $6.5-million in that time period.

“Despite the Liberals breaking their own fundraising rules on cash-for-government-access fundraisers, we’re still maintaining our advantage,” he said by email.

Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley said the “real story” in the numbers is that Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) becoming leader “hasn’t provided any boost whatsoever to the Conservative Party’s fundraising program.” 

Mr. Caley also said the party has seen an increase in “grassroots fundraising support” compared to the last quarter. He attacked Mr. Scheer’s “negative and divisive” politics as likely “a significant reason that the Conservative Party saw such a major drop in fundraising in his first quarter as leader, when new leaders typically see a strong fundraising boost.”

“You’ll see a lot of spin from both Conservative and Liberal parties and I wouldn’t really buy any of it,” said Mr. MacLachlan.

“It is what it is: Conservatives have always been an impressive fundraising machine and they’re still showing they can outperform the governing Liberals. But it also speaks to how significant those cash-for-access fundraising events were for the Liberals.”

Jagmeet Singh greets a supporter at his NDP leadership campaign launch on May 15 in Brampton, Ont. Mr. Singh now has the most federal caucus endorsements, with three. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Jagmeet Singh takes lead 

Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh eclipsed his competitors, raising $356,784, more than the combined totals of his fellow NDP leadership candidates in that same quarter.

That put him well ahead of his nearest competitor Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), who raised $123,577 last quarter and $234,342 total since entering the race.

While Mr.MacLachlan said the Brampton, Ont. politician’s fundraising since entering the race mid-May is “impressive,” the organization that underpins the campaign is just as significant.

“He’s long been known to be a powerful organizer and someone who brings innovative approaches,” said Mr. MacLachlan, making note of the campaign’s 2,500 volunteers.

NDP candidate fundraising totals raised in the first and second quarter of 2017. The Hill Times graph created with Infogram

Mr. Angus matched the momentum of his first quarter, as did Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Ask., Man.), raising $70,156. Guy Caron (Rimouski Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.) reported $46,970, slightly behind his first quarter showing of $57,235 but both he and Ms. Ashton donated $25,000 of their own money to launch their efforts.

Crestview’s Mr. Rogers noted in the Conservative leadership race, fundraising didn’t determine who won, a point Mr. Angus’s campaign pushed.

“Our path to victory has very little to do with the amount of money anyone else raises,” said spokesman Jesse Brady, referencing the resources needed to run Mr. Singh’s Brampton and Surrey, B.C. offices. “Our campaign plan is bit different, relying on strong grassroots support and volunteers from across the country.”

Meanwhile Mr. Singh’s campaign used the results to remind members he can be the “growth candidate,” noting 75 per cent of its 1,517 donors were new NDP donors.

Ms. Ashton’s campaign sent a preemptive release before the numbers were public, boasting about $100,000 raised in July—more in the one month than the second quarter total.

“I’m not sure it’s a smart tactic, because it just looks like you’re trying to sugarcoat what isn’t necessarily as competitive a fundraising number as the others,” said Mr. MacLachlan.

In an email the Manitoba MP’s campaign said the number of donors is just as important as dollars raised. Her campaign reported 1,006 contributions, compared to Mr. Singh’s 1,681, Mr. Angus’s 1,285 and Mr. Caron’s 568.

MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.), who left the race July 6 just after the second quarter filings were due, brought in $28,673 from 296 contributions. Former NDP leadership candidate Pat Stogran, who left the month before, blaming financial barriers and insider attacks, raised $38,864 from 342 contributions.


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