We are one year from voting in local elections, and based on increased activity in the local blogosphere and a perceptible sharpening of local social media jabs, we can safely assume the silly season has begun.
The more serious campaign news this week is that the provincial government has provided a heads-up on how to organize our 2018 campaigns. We knew there were going to be spending limits, but it is good to have some certainty on the ending of Corporate and Organized Labour donations.
New campaign spending limits based on the voting population were established early this year with amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. In 2018 New Westminster, Mayoral candidates will be limited to about $45,000, and Councillors to about $23,000.
After some speculation, and more than a little uncertainty, the provincial government introduced yesterday proposed legislation to ban donations to local election campaigns by Corporations and Labour Unions. It is safe to assume that the Green Party will support the legislation (it is something they have called for), so we can now say the playing field for the next election is set.
To get an idea what this means in New West, you can look at how money was raised last election. The data is available at the Elections BC site where financial disclosure forms for 2014 are still posted.
Starting with the Mayoral election, you can see that in aggregate, most fundraising was from businesses:
However, the main candidates did vary quite a bit in how they raised their funds. Candidate Cote, by far, collected the most from individual donations in 2014 (twice that of all other candidates), and received the bulk of available labour support (though only a little more than ¼ of his funding). In contrast, Mayor Wright received most of the business support, and was in turn mostly supported by businesses. Both main candidates spent more in 2014 than will be allowed in 2018, and neither collected enough from individuals to meet the proposed maximum spending amount.
In aggregate, Council candidates collected most of their funding from individuals. Labour provided less than 1/4 of the funding, and business less than 1/5. (I’m going to avoid talking about the couple of candidates who were mostly “anonymously” supported):
Individually, only two candidates (yes, I’m one of them!) got even close to the proposed 2018 spending limit. Notably, both of us were also within the top 3 in fundraising from individuals:
Although the ranking of overall spending closely parallels that of fundraising from individuals, there is no doubt that the gap between the biggest and lowest spenders was widened by business and labour contributions. Based on that trend, it is probably safe to assume that the removal of so-called “big money” from local elections will result in more equality in campaign fundraising/spending. This is a good thing.
My equivocation is part of the reason why I haven’t taken a vocal side in the “Ban Big Money” rhetoric. I absolutely think it is a good thing in the long run for democracy, however I was elected under the old system, and received the benefit of business and labour contributions. Now I have a potentially bigger advantage: incumbency.
There is no doubt in council elections that incumbency is an advantage. One way to overcome that burned-in advantage is to raise more money and run the kind of super-organized and hit-all-the-bases campaign we all dream of running. It could be argued that having used a “big money advantage” to get a seat, my now campaigning to take that potential opportunity away from others is, well, self-serving. And that always made me feel a bit itchy about actively campaigning for this change.
In the end, this is where we are for 2018, and I’m glad we all have lots of heads-up about what the rules are going to be. Game on.