Crunching the fourth quarter party finance numbers from Elections Canada
Yesterday, Elections Canada issued the fourth quarter financial returns for political parties in 2008. In November, party finance became headline news when the Conservatives tried to remove the annual subsidy for political parties in the economic update. Party finance is usually not a sexy topic and has since faded from the headlines. But the release of the new numbers is exciting for those of us who study and are obsessed by the finances of Canada's political parties (I think there are three of us).
I've spent much of the day updating my voluminous spreadsheets full of party financial data to deal with the new data. Here are some of the things I've found out.
1) The Conservatives set a record for the most money raised from individual donors in 2008, becoming the first political party to break the $20 million barrier in one year. The Liberals are back above $5 million after dropping below that level in 2007.
2) Obviously, this means there's a huge gap between the Conseratives and their competition, especially the Liberals. However, the gap isn't as large as it might appear. Conservative fundraising costs lots of money. Based on how I read their financial returns, the party typically spends $7-8 million a year on fundraising. The Liberals spend maybe $2 million. It's still a big gap, to be sure, but notas big as the raw numbers show.
3) The Green Party did well raising money in 2008, showing a sizeable gain in individual donations. All parties were up in 2008 from what we saw in 2007, likely reflecting the election and the highly charged partisan atmosphere of late November and December.
4) We all know the Conservatives are the least dependent on the annual subsidy to parties, with only one third of their revenue in 2008 coming from that source. But here's an interesting bit of party finance trivia: which party is the second least dependent on state financing? It's the Green Party, just a bit ahead of the NDP. Interestingly, both of these parties get the majority of their revenue from private sources.
5) The BQ continues to depend on state subsidies like no other party: over 80% of the party's revenue comes from the annual subsidy. The Liberals are the only other party that gets a majority of its money from the state (though well behind the BQ at about 60% in 2008).
The fact that the Liberals and Michael Ignatieff essentially hold the balance of power in Parliament (the NDP and BQ have signalled that they will always vote against the government) means that it is unlikely that the Conservatives will reintroduce the measure to remove the subsidy. Unless, however, Stephen Harper wants to provoke an election ... but that likely won't be for a while. But it is imperative for the Liberals to learn how to thrive under this new regime. By my estimates, Conservative revenue is up about 60% since the 2004 changes to party finance. The Liberals are own 12%. Righting that balance has to be one of Michael Ignatieff's biggest priorities as Liberal leader.