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This article was published 7/2/2015 (895 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Federal political parties saw a bump in donations in the last three months of 2014, as they gird up for a long and expensive election campaign this year. But the fundraising efforts came with a new sense of urgency for some parties, with the end of a per-vote subsidy, cutting off a source of public financing and forcing them to overhaul fundraising strategy.
In the last quarter of 2014, the Tories raised $6.6 million, the Liberals $5.8 million and the NDP $3.8 million. For the year, the Tories raised $20.1 million, the Liberals $15.7 million and the NDP $9.5 million. The official 2014 results will be released later this year and might be a little lower than these totals.
Here's what the numbers mean in the new fundraising climate:
Liberals up their game
While the Tories have been the traditional leaders in fundraising, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau are working hard to close that gap. The Liberals increased their fourth-quarter fundraising by about $1.1 million compared to the same period in 2013. More significantly, the Liberals saw 47,568 people donate -- slightly more than the Conservatives' 47,133 donors.
"They have now managed to build up a database of contributors that is beginning to rival the Conservatives," said Dr. Robert MacDermid, a professor at York University who specializes in political financing.
MacDermid attributed that edge partly to the new "supporter" class of Liberal members who were not full members of the party, but could vote in a leadership race.
"What it's allowed them to do is collect a huge number of potential names, people who're interested, which they could then add to their contributor list and mine that list," he said. "All fundraising is about going back to the same givers again and again and again, and ultimately you want to build up that list of givers."
Big data election
The per-vote subsidy contributed nearly $2 to coffers per year for every vote the party got in the previous election, but this taxpayer funding has been phased out by the Conservatives and is ending this year. The NDP and Liberals depended on the subsidy, especially after union and corporate donations were banned in 2004. While the Conservatives have been adept at tracking their supporters and getting a large number of people to donate, the other parties have had to learn -- quickly.
The NDP, for instance, had 15,637 donors in the last quarter of 2010, and 31,504 donors in 2014 - nearly double. The Liberals more than doubled their donors, with 20,117 donors in the last quarter of 2010 compared to 47,568 donors in 2014.
"To some extent, it's what produced the Obama victory. If you look at party experts, they'll also say the most important thing is to collect information, build large data sets of contributors and people," MacDermid said.
The Conservatives have always been particularly good at maintaining this data, which includes information gleaned from door-to-door canvassers and MP mail-outs, MacDermid said. This allows them to use their database to identify issues important to their base -- and then tailor fundraising call-outs according to those issues.
The Green Party
is in trouble
The per-vote subsidy meant votes for a particular party, even in ridings where it had no hope of winning, were valuable. In 2011, the subsidy brought in $1.5 million for the Green Party, giving them an incentive to campaign across the country, even though they won in only one riding.
With the subsidy, the Green Party's message could be, "Your candidate may not win, but you will still build the party by voting for us," MacDermid said.
"I think what will happen is they'll have to go back to focusing on specific ridings, because that appeal will no longer be relevant... and that will mean they'll be less relevant in the national debate, and that's really unfortunate."
Inayat Singh is a data reporter at the Free Press. He blogs about government transparency, public records and the statistics behind the stories at wfp.to/digits.
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