Torontoist Environment Editor Chris Tindal is currently engaged in a federal by-election campaign. This weekly column is an attempt to offer a “behind the scenes” glimpse into what it’s like to be that mysterious Other: a politician.
Successful election campaigns require money, and that funding obviously has to come from donors. I’ve noticed a number of misconceptions about how political campaigns are funded, probably due to the fact that election financing laws have changed frequently over the last few years. The issue usually comes up when I hear someone make an assumption about where political parties get their money, or when a volunteer suggests an illegal (but otherwise great) idea to raise or save money.
Here are some things you should know about federal election campaigns and money. (General disclaimer: the following should not be considered an authoritative or exhaustive description of federal election laws. Also note that provincial and municipal laws are different.)
- Corporate donations are illegal. A perception persists that large political parties are bankrolled by corporations, but that isn’t true (at least in a direct sense). That includes both monetary donations and “in kind” donations in the form of services or resources.
- Union donations are also illegal, same as corporate.
- Individual donations are limited to $1,100 at the local level and $1,100 at the federal level. (So you can’t just find one rich friend to pay for your whole campaign.)
- If you’re the candidate, you get to donate an extra $1,100 to your own campaign, but no more.
- Individual “in-kind” donations are also limited when that individual is in the business of providing the service she or he provides to your campaign. For example, if your friend is a professional designer, they’re only allowed to do $1,100 worth of design for you for free. On the other hand, your other friend who isn’t a professional designer can do as much free design for you as they want.
- Spending limits for each riding are determined based on the number of registered voters. In Toronto Centre, the spending limit for each campaign is around $88,000. Top campaigns typically spend the maximum.
- Each party gets $1.75 (indexed to inflation, now closer to $2) per vote per year from Elections Canada based on their most recent general election results. However, that funding goes directly to the central party and is not necessarily distributed to each local riding, where the money to run a local campaign is often raised and spent.
- The average amount donated to a political party is around $80 (it varies from party to party). So, in order to fully fund an $88,000 campaign, you’ll need to find about 1100 people to donate to your campaign. So unless you’re exceptionally popular, your Facebook friends won’t be enough.