Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why Does the Per-Vote Subsidy Make Sense?

I recently had a debate with a few friends on Facebook about whether or not Harper's scrapping of the per-vote public funding for political parties is a good or a bad thing. This is a slightly modified version of the comments I made in that debate, formatted to fit your screen (see how I did that?):

The argument has been made that losing these subsidies will hurt the Conservatives the most. It is therefore highly commendable that they would do this for the good of the country and at their own expense. While it is true that the Conservatives will lose the most money when they get rid of this subsidy, this does not hurt the Conservatives the most. Yes, they lose the most money. Conservatives already have a lot more money than anyone else, but this will crush the Greens for sure and possibly the Liberals. The NDP will also notice the effects. The Conservatives will continue to receive big money from big donors (and, to their credit, lots of small donations from recruited donors). I suppose the question then is this:

Should a party be elected because they can get more people to donate money to them or should a party be elected because they have the best ideas? Which might even beg the question, why is fundraising even part of our system? However, there are a ton of other questions that pop up with the concept of eliminating fundraising that are too complicated to get into in this blog (though it would be an interesting topic to explore). Does anyone know if there is a system in the world that doesn't use fundraising (ie. completely publicly funded)?

Our current system does not allow corporations or unions to donate money to political parties at the federal level (though they still do in Alberta at the provincial level). So why do the Conservatives have so much money if they don't get corporate contributions? Are they actually good at grassroots fundraising?

The answer is yes, they are very good at grassroots fundraising. It does help that they have way more large donors that can afford to give the legal maximum, but they also get lots of small donations. They had already built that structure when the rules were tightened back in 2003 and again in 2006, so they were ready for it. The other parties weren't.

Here is a link, courtesy of my favourite website,, that shows how much money each party raised in 2010, broken down by amount of contribution, so you can see how many large and small donors each party attracted last year (referring to the table near the bottom of the post, not the graphs):

You'll notice that the NDP had about 200 donors who donated close to the maximum, making up 0.4% of the party's total donations. The Conservatives had about 1600 donors in the same category. Of course it is normal, given that the Conservatives had a much greater TOTAL number of donors, that there be more donors in this category. However, it is most telling to look at what percentage of their total dollars that amount represents. It makes up a little over 10% of their total, or 20 times what this category makes up for the NDP. That's the part I dislike the most about these numbers, when it comes to what is fair and what isn't. But it is very significant as well that the Conservatives have over 130,000 donors who contribute less than $200 per year. The Liberals and NDP have about 61,000 and 49,000 donors in this category, respectively. So it is VERY clear that the Conservatives are much better at fundraising with both large donors and small donors.

The most useful question to ask, in my opinion, is this: what would be most fair when it comes to contribution limits? Most Canadians can't afford to contribute $1,100 per year to a political party. So why is that the maximum? If that isn't fair, then what should the maximum be? What amount can EVERY Canadian afford to donate, so that the playing field is level? How about $2? But maybe some can't even afford that. Perhaps it would be worth the health of our democracy to give the $2 to those voters who can't afford it and allow them to donate it to the party of their choice. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn't cost much to taxpayers, and it would ensure that everyone can contribute to the political party of their choice equally. How would we go about putting a system like that in place? The answer? We already have it. It's called the per-vote subsidy. Every vote is a $2 (approximately) donation to a political party. All that is required for someone to make such a donation is to go out and cast a ballot on election day. Easy as that. Stephen Harper is about the scrap the most fair and democratic aspect of political fundraising our country has. I suppose at this point there's not much we can do other than deal with it.

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