Wildrose trounced Tories in election fundraising battle

CALGARY — The Wildrose lost the popular vote in last spring's hard-fought provincial election but won the money contest against the ruling Progressive Conservative dynasty, new financial disclosure documents show.

In what is believed to be a first in the Tories' four-decade rule, the Conservatives spent $4.6 million but were beat handily when it came to election fundraising.

According to party documents submitted to Elections Alberta, Wildrose reported total election-time revenues of $3.1 million — nearly double the $1.6 million raised by the PCs.

Speaking to reporters in Edmonton, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party — which elected 17 MLAS compared with 61 Tories — raised more than the PCs because a lot of Albertans wanted to see the government challenged.

Wildrose was also the only party in the legislature to fully finance its election push with money raised during the campaign fundraising period, which went from March into June.

"We look at the party finances as being an indication to the public of how we would run government," Smith said.

"That will just indicate to Albertans who the true fiscally conservative party is."

But PC president Bill Smith said Tory donors were already exhausted from the party's gruelling leadership race in 2011, when more than $6.3 million was spent during the eight-month contest.

He said the party spent exactly what it had budgeted for during the election campaign, even if it dipped into its savings to the tune of $3 million to pay for the difference.

And Smith said there's still money in the bank.

"You always have to keep your eye to the competition, for sure," he said Wednesday. "My guys will be looking at how they were successful."

The documents show Premier Alison Redford's party spent $4.6 million, including $2.7 million on "communications" such as TV and radio ads, en route to winning the April 23 election.

It points to a changing dynamic in Alberta that should worry Redford's party, said Grant MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah.

He noted that while Wildrose got thousands of Albertans to open their wallets, the PCs survived mainly on the strength of large, corporate donations.

"The Tories' loss of support from individual donors poses a serious risk for the party in terms of stable, long-term support required to maintain power," Mensah said.

"It's a warning that the party has a lot of work to do to maintain its relevance to its membership and strong linkage to the wider voting public."

The Wildrose party ran a less expensive campaign, spending just over $3 million and running a $29,000 surplus. The party didn't disclose a detailed list of where dollars went, but party officials say more information will come out during the party's annual general meeting next month.

The Wildrose also got a significant proportion of its money from individual donors who gave less than $375 — more than $1 million total, compared with $64,000 for the PCs — which they say shows "the true grassroots nature of the Wildrose."

"It means that our party isn't beholden to these types of special interests or backroom deals," party executive director Jonathon Wescott said.

But the two largest parties received significant contributions from the province's business giants. For instance, Cenovus Energy gave $25,000 to both the Wildrose and Conservatives, Prairie Merchant Corp. gave $30,000 to the Wildrose, and Northwest Upgrading Inc. gave $10,000 to the Tories.

The Redford Tories received a total of $150,000 from billionaire and Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, his family members and his company.

"Alberta has the most lax campaign finance rules in Canada," said Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon.

He said major corporations and wealthy individuals provided most of the money for last April's election — meaning they set the political direction in a province that already has low energy royalty rates and a flat provincial tax.

"It's nothing against any individual or any individual companies," said Moore-Kilgannon. "But federally, corporations and unions are not even allowed to contribute to a political party."

In Alberta, donations from individuals, companies or unions are limited to $30,000 in an election year.

Smith's and Redford's parties left all other contenders in the dust, financially.

The Liberals, who won five seats, took in $112,427 in revenue — their largest donation was $10,000, also from Cenovus — and spent $150,667. But party president Todd Van Vliet said the party plans to have all its campaign bills paid by the end of the year.

The NDP, winner of four seats, raked in $517,165 and had $654,241 in expenses. The party doesn't take donations from corporations, but received its largest contributions from the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, at $15,000 each.

Brian Stokes, the NDP's provincial secretary, said the party debt now sits at about $360,000, but the party plans to pay it off within a couple of years, and then begin building for the next provincial election in 2016.

"We're very happy with the results and where we're sitting," Stokes said.

Edmonton Journal, Wedn Oct 25 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

With files from Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald, and Keith Gerein, Edmonton [email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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