"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Voting with their chequebooks

Recovering Traitor, and general unPerson Craig Westcott, makes an intriguing suggestion in a comment to this little corner of the internets:
The obstacle to all that, admittedly, is money. That is to say, the Liberals have none. However, there are many people in the business community in this province, and the rest of Canada who are (a) disgusted by DW's governance style and (b) feel angry because they think there is an unlevel playing field when it comes to bidding on government work, that you have to be a buddy of Dan in order to get a look in.
And that’s exactly why Recovering Traitor’s idea is going nowhere fast.

For the time-span covered by easily-accesible public data (since 1996), corporate and business donations have fuelled the operations, both general and electoral, of the two main provincial political parties. In government or in opposition, roughly 75% to 80% of both the Liberals’ and PCs’ contributions come from businesses large or small.

(The NDP has relied much more heavily on individual (51%) and union (44%) contributions, while the smaller parties and independent candidates depend almost entirely on individual donations. From 1996 to 2007* inclusive, non-Liberal/non-Tory parties and their candidates only received 0.6% of the overall corporate contributions to provincial democracy, and so are disregarded for the rest of the analysis in this piece.)

Over the period covered by the public reporting, the party of the Government of the Day — GoD for short — has benefitted from its position as GoD. Contributions from corporate and business donors to the governing Liberals, up to 2002, outstripped those to the opposition Tories by a ratio of $2.70 to $1.00.

Similarly, in the years since the change of government, 2004 onward, business contributions to the Tory GoD have outstripped those to the opposition Liberals, and by a larger margin $3.20 to $1.00.

Only in the impending election year of 2003 were the corporation contributions reasonably even-handed: $1.04-million to the outgoing Liberal GoD, $1.12-million to the incoming Tories. Most of the “balance” can be attributed to pre-election fundraising which favoured the still-governing Liberals ($537,000) over the still-opposition Tories ($266,000). Campaign-period corporate contributions in 2003 favoured the Tories, $853,000 to $501,000. In the 2007 election period, the difference was even more striking, with the Tory GoD favoured by business donors by nearly a 2.8 to 1 ratio.

More striking still, is how little use the business world has for the opposition outside election years. The 2004 annual party contribution returns show that the business world contributed $1.52 to the Tories for every $1.00 to the Liberals. In 2005, the gap was even starker: $442,000 for the Tories, $51,000 for the Liberals; a ratio of 8.6 to 1. In 2006, Tories took in $428,000 from businesses, the Liberals, $59,000. In 2007, excluding the more even-handed election and by-election contributions, the Tory GoD’s business bagmen took in a whopping 21 times as much as their Liberal competitors. In every set of election financial reports since the 2003 campaign — general, 2007 electoral, and by-election — the Tories have out-fundraised the Liberals among corporate donors by wide margins.

Nor is it just Water Street — both literal and allegorical — that is greasing the electoral machinery. While the Liberals out-bagmanned the Tories $1.38-million to $457,000 between 1996 and pre-election 2003 among out-of-province corporations, both parties heavily relied on those dirty furriners for their corporate lucre. Corporate donors giving addresses outside the province accounted for 28% of corporate donations to the Liberals by dollar value, and 27% to the Tories.

Since the 2003 election, out-of-province corporate donors have dropped off, with the Liberals having taken in $100,000 from corporate democrats, to the Tories’ $456,000. The share of corporate donations to the Tories from out of province has decreased since 2004, from 25% of all Tory corporation intake down to 10% in 2007. The Liberals’ share briefly surged in 2006 to 21%, before settling back down in 2007 to 13%.

Much of the Tory fundraising success since 2003, like that of the Liberals before 2003, can be attributed to GoD syndrome. However, the Tories’ advantage as government has been even higher than that of the Tobin and Grimes Liberals. Between 1996 and 2002 inclusive, the cumulative Liberal corporate fundraising advantage was 2.7:1 over the Tories. From 2004 to 2007 inclusive, the Tory advantage has been higher: 3.2:1. (Election year 2003 is excluded as a transition year.)

Another remarkable feature of the party financing landscape is the role of big resource companies. Since 2004 inclusive, over $100,000 of the $456,000 that the Williams Conservatives have received from out-of-province corporations has come from a handful of big resource firms; among them, Abitibi-Consolidated, Chevron, Husky and associated companies, Inco, Kruger, and Petro-Canada. Out-of-province resource companies have cumulatively out-donated to the Tories 3.3:1 over the Liberals during that period. In respect of election and by-election campaign contributions, they were collectively almost perfectly even-handed, giving just $600 more to the Tories than to the Liberals ($12,750 vs. $12,150). Outside the electoral cycle, out-of-province resource companies have contributed 4.7 times as much to the Tories since they formed government, for the ongoing operations of the party, as to the opposition Liberals.

The sole survivor among the paper companies, locally-domiciled Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, has also favoured the Tories since the change of government, having given $9200 to the party and its candidates since 2004, compared to $2500 to the Liberals. Of that, it has donated $6000 to the annual coffers of the Tories, compared to $1800 for the Liberals; $3200 has gone to the Tories during election and by-election campaigns, versus $700 for the Liberals.

So yes, pace unPerson Westcott, there are lot of people in the business world disgusted by the Premier’s governance style. There are even more who are disgusted by his policies, including expropriation and nationalisation, to say nothing of nationalism. The first two of those approaches are often envied, or even emulated, by NDP politicians and partisans from Ontario to Nova Scotia; the third is the stock in trade of the Parti québécois. Yet it would be impossible to imagine Bay Street or the oilpatch channelling money to any provincial NDP branch plant. (The federal NDP and Bloc Québécois, and the Parti Québécois, like other federal and Quebec provincial parties, are not permitted to accept corporate contributions.)

And at the same time, it is easy to see the oilpatch, Bay Street, and Water Street underwriting the Madness of King Dan. No imagination is required: the public reports of campaign and party contributions are there for all to consult, bloggers and the Eighth Floor alike. And therein may lie the rub.

There is a large and growing number of business elites grumbling about the Régime. Some of them, after a few drinks, with the hotel suite curtains pulled, the door closed and locked, a damp towel jammed into the crease for good measure, and the bathroom fan and air conditioner flicked on for white noise, will go so far as to commisserate with those who, under such secure conditions, will quietly dare to contemplate The Things That Need To Be Done to bring about regime change.

Then, next morning, like a cheating husband overcompensating for his guilt with jewellry and trips to France, they will cut a cheque to the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Such corporate donations aren’t political.

Like so much else about provincial politics these days, they are pathological.

Graph 1: Total corporate contributions (annual, election, and by-election campaign), Liberal and PC parties, 1996-2007. Election years indicated with asterisks.

Graph 2: Corporate contributions as a percentage of all annual and campaign contributions, Liberal and PC parties, 1996-2007. (Both-party/All-years average is 77%)

* Six months into 2009, the 2008 data are still unavailable.



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