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December 11, 2010

Financing Leadership Races

"Within 90 days after a leader is selected for a registered political party, the financial agent of a leadership contestant must file with the chief electoral officer, on behalf of the leadership contestant, a financing report in accordance with this section."
Election Act, Section 211

It has been 17 years since Gordon Campbell hijacked the BC Liberal party from Gordon Wilson. It has never been made public how much he spent to do it or who provided the money, but when the BC Liberals choose a new leader on February 26th, the financial agent for each candidates will have to file a report with Elections BC.

Thanks to the excellent online Financial Reports and Political Contribution System maintained by Elections BC, with the click of a mouse you can see 47 leadership financing reports filed for candidates for the leadership of many interesting, weird and diverse political parties. For example, in one report you can see that in 2006 Rebecca Ambrose spent nothing and raised nothing to become leader of the Planting Seeds Party. If you are looking for more familiar names, you can discover that in 2001 Chris Delaney's campaign spent $6,929 to elect him leader of the BC Unity party. Nothing has been filed yet for the new BC First Party where Salvatore Vetro is listed by Elections BC as the party's leader and contact person.

The leadership financing reports reveal that in 2007 Jane Sterk's campaign spent $9,770 to make her leader, compared to $1,384 spent by Adrian Carr's 2000 campaign.

Since leadership financing reports have been publicly available, the all-time big spender was Ujjal Dosanjh's 2000 campaign which raised $275,308 and spent $187,441. Three years later the campaign for Carole James spent the most in a field of 7, but at $62,205, it was nothing compared to the effort by Dosanjh.

While BC's election law requires leadership candidates to publicly report, it places no restrictions on how much can be raised or spent. Note, however, that donations to leadership campaigns do not qualify for tax receipts. Recognizing that money donated to leadership candidates is likely to come out of money that might otherwise be donated to the party, in 2003 the NDP required candidates not only to pay an entrance fee but also to pay the party 25% of all funds they raised.

This is all peanuts compared to the big spending BC Liberals who require their candidates to pay a $25,000 entry fee. The party is reported as putting a $450,000 spending limit in place for each candidate.

There are unlikely to be any officially declared NDP leadership candidates until the party sets the date for its vote, the entry fee and the spending limit. You can bet the fee and limit will be far less than half of what the BC Liberals have set, but even with a $10,000 entry fee and a $100,000 spending limit, less than fully committed candidates may be deterred from running. It is a good thing to restrict the field to serious candidates as there are plenty of other forums for those who just want to debate.