The cliché says it is the mother’s milk of politics, and the accountants say the Liberals are the best-fed baby in Nova Scotia.
Money. Without it no political party can operate, and lots of it in the hands of a well-tuned political organization can turn an also-ran into a member of the legislature.
By almost every yardstick, the political winner in Nova Scotia in 2017 was the provincial Liberal Party, which won a second majority government and blew by their political opponents in fundraising.
A strong fundraising operation is perhaps the surest sign of a healthy political organization, and Stephen McNeil’s Nova Scotia Liberals are beginning to take on the appearance of a Big Red Machine.
The Liberals reported raising almost $900,000 last year compared with just shy of $700,000 the year before. That’s no mean feat in a province where fundraising is limited to individual contributors and the maximum contribution is $5,000.
The provincial NDP raised about $567,000 last year and the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives managed to bring in about $470,000. In 2016, the NDP and Tories raised $442,000 and $404,000 respectively.
The Liberals’ fundraising advantage translated into a wide gap in election spending last spring, when the Liberals spent almost $1.5 million, or about twice that of the Tories, who finished second in seats but spent the least with just $777,000 in election expenses. The NDP spent about $850,000 on last spring’s election to win seven seats.
Winning elections is a virtuous circle in Nova Scotia, because every vote cast for a political party earns that organization $1.67 a year in public funding.
The Tories’ strong showing last spring earned the party a raise in public funding, from about $177,000 a year based on the 2013 election results, to about $240,000 annually after gaining 143,000 votes in May 2017.
The Liberals and the NDP each took a financial hit following the 2017 election, as both parties saw their actual vote decline between 2013 and 2017. The Liberals still get the most public funding at $265,000 a year, down from the $308,000 the party was drawing between 2013 and 2017. The NDP now gets $144,000 a year and that’s down from a pre-2017 annual public stipend of $181,000.
There is no doubt that electoral success and the smell of success are advantages in political fund-raising, which helps explain the Liberals’ strong performance in recent years, but it also augers well for the Tories’ fundraising prospects leading to the next vote.
But first the provincial PCs need to get through a leadership contest, when contributions to the party suffer as donors direct their dollars to their preferred leadership candidates. An increase in party membership motivated by a desire to vote in the leadership contest helps the party offset the potential shortfall in annual giving.
If the Tories emerge from their October convention united behind a leader who looks like a winner, their fundraising efforts will reflect that aura of pending success.
That’s not to say there’s anything in it for donors. It’s a stretch to assume that financial support for a political party or candidate in Nova Scotia comes with an expected quid pro quo. A maximum $5,000 contribution might open some office doors, but it’s not enough to motivate a politician or party to heap largesse on the well-heeled contributor. There are other ways to garner favours from the party in power, however.
Despite the weakness in overall fundraising, Nova Scotia’s Tories are feeling pretty good about their prospects these days. They have a strong field of leadership contenders, attracted by the impressive 2017 election results.
And, based on a simple calculation of spending per vote, the Tories ran far and away the most efficient campaign last May. They paid $5.43 cents for every vote they earned, compared to $9.92 cents the NDP spent and $9.50 the Liberals paid for each of their 158,000 votes.
The Tories also boast the most frugal individual campaign of 2017. Brad Johns claimed the Sackville-Beaver Bank seat and spent just over $20,000, the lowest amount of any major party candidate, winner or loser.
Money is the mother’s milk of politics, because without it no party or candidate can survive. But as the last election shows, a well-run, efficient campaign can get a lot done on a little cash.