03.29.2016 10:15 AM

On fundraising, and politics: the definition of hypocrisy

A columnist at the Toronto Star is in high dudgeon, this morning, swinging his metaphorical sword about the supposedly grimy, grubby business of political fundraising.  You can read it here, if you like.

My response is in the form of a question and answer.

Q: Mr. Columnist, who is the principal beneficiary of all the fundraising that political parties are forced to do?

A: Um, the media, of course.

Yes, the media. That’s where the vast majority of funds raised goes.  Sometimes as much as 80 per cent of it.

To put a fine point on it, in case you are having difficulty believing it: the guy who is complaining is the same guy who is benefitting.  Bit rich, that, eh?

Democratic ad buy guru Tobe Berkovitz confirmed this reality, in my book The War Room: “[Ad buy] is where most of your campaign’s money is going. If you do it efficiently, then it’s going to be good. But if you’re not doing it efficiently, then you’re going to end up wasting a fair amount of money.”

No doubt: Wynne had great messaging last time, Tim Hudak didn’t, and voters responded accordingly.  But, equally, there is no doubt that the Star’s columnist is not being entirely honest with his readers, this morning: to wit, the Number One Beneficiary of all that grimy, grubby fundraising is him.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, I heard, put it best in a scrum she had about the issue this morning.

“Running campaigns, interacting in terms of advertising with the public, signs, all of it costs, costs money – and, most people can’t fund that process themselves.  Nor would we, I think, want a system where only people wealthy enough to fund their own campaign could take part.  So, that funding needs to come from somewhere…We made a decision as a society, a long time ago, that we wouldn’t fund political activity solely through tax dollars.”

Wynne went on to say that she is bringing forward some pretty comprehensive changes to Ontario’s political fundraising rules in the Fall.  That’s good.

But, in the meantime, make no mistake: the reason why political parties – not just Wynne’s, all of them – spend so much time fundraising is because the media don’t give us air time, or space on the page, for free.  They charge us plenty, and they almost always jack up their rates during election periods.

The fact that they are now complaining about that? Well…a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?



  1. Houland Wolfe says:

    Sorry WK, it’s more paradoxical than hypocritical. What would be hypocritical is if the Star columnist claimed that current financing rules benefited democracy, as they ensured that all sides of an issue could be debated. It’s paradoxical, because Cohn is arguing against his own interests. Some might say that this was noble. BTW, didn’t your friend, a certain PM, reform election financing to make them far more restrictive than Ontario’s? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  2. SD says:

    The problem is not that parties fundraise, but that those who donate expect something in return. Look at how Kathleen Wynne decided on the sale of beer and wine. Why do we not have beer and wine sold in corner stores? Those who benefit from the existing arrangement have donated to the Liberal Party so that Wynne only made minor modifications with the sale of beer and wine in some big supermarkets.

  3. TimL says:

    Pretty sure the public would be fine not being bombarded for weeks with expensive ad campaigns.

  4. Russ says:

    Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Like aforementioned milk, it should be clean and pure without any strings or expectations.

  5. davie says:

    Oh, good, a chance for me to repeat myself…

    Here’s what we do:
    We set up an arm of Elections Canada and call it Democracy Fund.
    We ban all donations ot candidates or parties.
    Anyone eager to contribute to the health of our democracy donates to the Democracy Fund.
    Candidates and parties receive all their campaign funding from the Democracy Fund on a formula tied to giving every one’s ideas a fair hearing.

    Idea is to shift emphasis on governance by those with most money, to governance by those with the better ideas.

    • Cory says:

      I don’t know if I’d like any of my money going towards supporting parties and opinions that I don’t support. I expect a lot of people would feel the same and would just not donate.

      Secondly I don’t like the idea of the government deciding what views and policies should be funded/allowed.

      Potentially this would have funds going to separatist and extremist parties.

  6. Mark says:

    I think you’re clouding the issue Warren. 80% of the money could go towards media or 0% could go — this kind of fundraising would still stink just as bad. It makes absolutely no difference if the majority of the money raised is spent on media ad buys, or voter research, or party staff, or what. The point is parties want as much money as possible, and large companies, unions, or interest groups are able to provide that money in exchange for time, access, and influence on politicians.

    Wynne et al. know that this is really not defendable behavior. Which is why they were quick to announce changes on the heels of this article being published. Of course I expect they’ll be smart about it and time the rule changes to come after their coffers are relatively full, and while Brown is still running around with a “HI MY NAME IS Patrick” sticker on.

  7. Maps Onburt says:

    The Ontario election spending laws are a joke right now. They should just lift the federal laws and put them into place provincially and while they are at it, eliminate the 75% tax deduction on political contributions. The biggest donor should be paying no more than $1K/year and anything more should be criminal – people found breaching that through funding employees, etc should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There should be mandatory town halls for all candidates parties with say over say 10% support in each of the 5 regions (Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, The West and the North) during the election cycle, scrap the debates and run a very tightly controlled 42 day election cycle on a proscribed date. Absolutely no advertising or third party advertising or involvement outside the writ.

    It would be wonderful if there was also some way to ensure that promises made are kept during the mandate but I can’t see any way to practically enforce this and still allow for reasonable changes due to unexpected circumstances.

  8. BrianK says:

    During my relatively brief time in the world of professional politics, I had to, on numerous occasions, do exactly what Cohn describes in his column: meet with a stakeholder by day to talk about potential legislative changes, and then call that same stakeholder later on to sell them tickets to a fundraiser. It was the least appealing part of my job by a mile, and it made me very cynical. In fairness to the Liberals, I don’t believe that the PCs or NDP would behave any differently in power – these are the rules of the game, and in a political system where the ultimate objective is to win, it only makes sense to use the rules to maximize one’s advantage. So the problem isn’t with the Liberals, the problem is with the rules. No one is disputing that ad buys etc cost money, the question is where that money ought to come from. Now that Wynne has promised changes, the onus is on her to deliver something meaningful. If she doesn’t change the system despite having the ability to do so, she’s going to have to do a whole lot better than than shrug her shoulders and say “hey, that’s the system.”

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