Obama sets example for Canada

The election of Barack Obama is historic in many ways, most significantly in the progression along the troubled history of race in the United States. On Tuesday, Americans turned out in record numbers to give Obama a decisive win and vault the first African-American into the highest office in that country. The Obama team also set new records along the fundraising front and may indeed set a precedent for the financing of elections in the future.

According to opensecrets.org, a website on money in politics run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, Senator Obama raised $639 million during the 2008 Presidential election cycle with 91% of that sum coming from individual donations. Comparatively, Senator McCain raised $360 million, 54% coming from the same type; the majority of the dollars from each candidate’s campaign came from people making personal donations to their favourite candidate. A striking difference between campaigns was Obama’s refusal of public funding. The Illinois senator took $0 of public financing while his Republican counterpart from Arizona took over $84 million to make up 23% of his campaign’s spending power.

We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory. — President-elect Barack Obama, Chicago November 4th, 2008

In Canada, the Reform Party under Preston Manning started a tradition of passing the hat in church basements and legion halls during rallies, speeches or simple administrative meetings. A donation of $5, $20 or $100 was passed on to bring change to Ottawa. The tradition continues today under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, though in a much more sophisticated way and one that is buoyed by databases and telemarketing. Conservatives have historically raised an average individual donation of about $100 while Liberals used to depend on fewer but larger sums. Jean Chretien –perhaps to kneecap his long-coveting Prime Ministerial successor — changed the way election financing was done in Canada by banning corporate and union donations. Chretien replaced the private financing of political parties by special interests with public financing by government. For each vote that a party earns during an election, that party receives $1.75 per year from the federal treasury.

On the surface, this reconfiguration of campaign financing seems to rebalance the funding equation from powerful institutions to those that ought to have the first and last word in any democracy. Indeed, voters are empowered not only when they give campaigns their vote but also when they do so with the knowledge that instead of corporate or union backing, there is a small financial sum that comes with each ballot cast that sustains parties instead. However, while Chretien’s system solves one problem, it creates another.

In Quebec where a province defaults to the inert rather than the principled, a problem exists with Chretien’s model of campaign financing. The Bloc Quebecois, doing all it could to supress its core principle of sovereignty for that province, rather stood against — indeed, as a block to — Conservative ideas in the 2008 general election and against Liberal corruption in 2006. In the first half of this year, the Bloc raised just over $70,000 but received $1.5 million in public financing. Donations are a result of direct support whereas that larger windfall comes from standing against something rather than offering something better. The Bloc Quebecois would not exist if it had to rely upon direct non-governmental financing from supporters.

This summer, I met a member of the Obama campaign’s senior staff in New York City. Discussing the presidential campaign and some Canadian politics, I was told that the Liberal Party had approached the Obama campaign to attain some insight into their fundraising capacity and to create a similar system in Canada so that a large number of small donors could fill their campaign war chest. The staffer told me that after initial discussions, the Liberal Party never followed up in any significant way.

A tried-and-true election strategy for the Liberal Party has been to strike fear into the electorate about what a Conservative administration might mean for Canada. In the last election we were warned that a Conservative majority would allow Harper to finally implement his hidden agenda. Yet the Conservatives in power have not been innocent of taking this lower path either. Defining Stephane Dion as a weak leader and scaring the electorate as to what his “tax on everything” would mean to the economy took a negative track and suggested people vote against, rather than for the Conservatives. People are goaded out of fear to vote against and they often hold their nose for the not-as-offensive choice they end up “supporting”. Since money comes from support, we should break the model that rewards false support and strengthen one that challenges parties to offer ideas rather than fear. Government subsidization of political parties hurts Canadian politics.

The motto of Barack Obama’s campaign for President was “Yes We Can”. Under the current Canadian system, we give welfare to parties for being best able to convince Canadians of the other parties, “No They Can’t”. If we made politics about the positive (Yes), responsibility of self (We) and enablement (Can) rather than the negative (No), what one’s opponent would do (They) and a need to stop them (Can’t), perhaps we could reduce voter apathy both at the ballot box and when parties pass the hat. If we gave voters more power to finance those they support rather than sustain those they least detest we could shift Canadian politics for the better.

On Tuesday, American politics changed. It is time to end campaign welfare so that we can replace politics that scares with that which inspires.

Yes we can.

Comments

comments

  • Simeon

    Does Hollywood or union money count as personal or corporate ?

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Union money, as a third party donation would go via a PAC. It should be noted that Obama took only $1,280 in PAC money during the Presidential campaign. “Hollywood” is limited to individual donations of a maximum of $2300 per person. This is the same rule that applies to all Americans.

  • http://blog.ederek.net dbo789

    I'm amazed at how people are so enthralled with Obama. All he's done so far is make some eloquent speeches. He hasn't done ANYTHING other than talk. He doesn't even barely have a history at all that we can look back to to use as a example of what is to come! Therefore, all of this talk about American politics 'changing for the better' and a 'revolution in the presidency' is nothing more than counting chickens before the eggs hatch.

    I'll believe it when I see it, until then Mr. Obama is just another democratic president. I wish people would get their heads out of the clouds and look at it realistically as well.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    This wasn't an endorsement of Obama's tax plan. It was to say that the method of raising money has changed in the United States. I argue for the better since Obama won without government subsidy. Canada would be better if it changed campaign financing to make parties earn supporter dollars solely through donations rather than donations and government subsidy.

  • Tamara

    As a professional fundraiser in the business for 19 years and an expert in grassroots direct response giving, I have much I would like to respond to this but have little time at the moment. what I will comment on is that you've hit a number of points on the head (except to describe Obama's fundraising as simplistic compared to the CPC's databases ect, is not quite true. O's fundraising, albeit at the grassroots level was VERY sophisticated).

    Canadians have a 'culture' of believing the government will look after us. You look at ANY fundraising in any sector in the US and you will see that they give massive amounts more in philanthropic dollars. Americans support their Universities, hospitals, charitable and political arenas in a way that is mind-blowing. It's a completely different culture of giving. As an aside, its why I will never employ an American vendor in my fundraising, because they do not 'get' Canadian's attitudes to giving and philanthropy.

    In a nutshell the problem is with the basic mind set of a conservative vs. a liberal/socialist. A conservative believes in himself and the community supporting those things he believes in. A liberal/socialist believes that the government should take care of it all. Tis why you saw Reform do so well in their fundraising. Tis why the CPC does. It's a basic difference in attitude. Liberals will NEVER do well with grassroots fundraising because their supporters don't fundamentally see 'why' they should support their party. We've long known this in the charitable sector. Those charities and non-profits that appeal to more conservative base (churches and religious institutes get 54% of the charitable dollar in Canada, United Way, health and disease) do very well with their fundraising.

    I worked in the hospital sector for years and we always TARGETED donors with conservative ideals. See.. lefties believe that health care is owed to us and the government should pay it all, where are righties know that government doesn’t pay for hospital equipment (in ON) and if they want an MRI for their local hospital, they’d better cough up the cash. Compare that with those industries that more appeal to the typical left – environment gets 1% of the charitable dollar, social services 4% etc. Lefties don't tend to give, nor when they do, do they give as generously. Right leaning people aren't waiting for government to bail them out of whatever cause is closest to their hearts, they are taking steps personally. It's not rocket science.

    The LPC will never be as successful in their fundraising as the CPC because those making the development decisions know they can't move their base. Unlike in the US where a larger % (even of low income) give back to their society, Canadians don't even think to. After all, won’t government take care of us cradle to grave??

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    “except to describe Obama's fundraising as simplistic compared to the CPC's databases ect, is not quite true. O's fundraising, albeit at the grassroots level was VERY sophisticated”

    Didn't say that. The comparison was between Manning's legion hall fundraising to the CPC's database efforts.

    Thanks for the thoughts. I agree very much on the consevative/socialist divide on attitudes towards giving.

  • Tamara

    My apologies, I read that into your comment and admit having not read your post as throughly as I normally do due to today's time constraints, I obviously projected. .

  • East of Eden

    That whole hidden agenda mantra is silly. If the agenda were hidden, how is its existence known? And if the Libs have proof of the hidden agenda's existence then they must have the hidden agenda. Why, then, were the contents of the hidden agenda never tossed out to the electorate? The whole hidden agenda mantra is just a load of hooey. If I were a Lib and I had proof of a hidden agenda, I'd make it public. I think that our fellow Canadians are starting to wake up to the big lie concerning this hidden agenda which does not exist. I challenge any Lib to prove to me that this hidden agenda exists. If this is not possible then the Libs should try another tactic. This mantra has had its 15 minutes of fame and should retire for good.

  • East of Eden

    Stephen, I mildly have mixed feelings toward your comment about the CPC taking the low road. I don’t dispute it but I do have some mixed feelings. I believe that Harper is a class act and he tried for the longest time to stay on the high road. However, his lack of response was taken by many to be a sign of weakness or lack of desire to communicate. His high road stance didn’t sell to many people and the Libs certainly did not seem inclined to join him on the high road. Sometimes it is necessary to lie down with the dogs. The Libs slagged and slandered and, when that didn’t work, they fabricated. It is about time that the CPC began fighting back.

    I’ll give you an example – when I was newly graduated from university, I was subjected to some rude treatment and unfair criticism from one of my colleagues. Having been raised to be a gentleman and to treat women with respect and courtesy, I tried the high road for about 7 months to no avail. Her abuse just became worse and worse. Finally, one day, I sank to her level and called her out on her rudeness. The result: she actually developed some respect for me and never treated me to her rudeness again. Sometimes, the low road is the only road to take when you’re up against somebody who knows no other way.

  • East of Eden

    Stephen, I mildly have mixed feelings toward your comment about the CPC taking the low road. I don’t dispute it but I do have some mixed feelings. I believe that Harper is a class act and he tried for the longest time to stay on the high road. However, his lack of response was taken by many to be a sign of weakness or lack of desire to communicate. His high road stance didn’t sell to many people and the Libs certainly did not seem inclined to join him on the high road. Sometimes it is necessary to lie down with the dogs. The Libs slagged and slandered and, when that didn’t work, they fabricated. It is about time that the CPC began fighting back.

    I’ll give you an example – when I was newly graduated from university, I was subjected to some rude treatment and unfair criticism from one of my colleagues. Having been raised to be a gentleman and to treat women with respect and courtesy, I tried the high road for about 7 months to no avail. Her abuse just became worse and worse. Finally, one day, I sank to her level and called her out on her rudeness. The result: she actually developed some respect for me and never treated me to her rudeness again. Sometimes, the low road is the only road to take when you’re up against somebody who knows no other way.

  • http://devinjohnston.ca Devin Johnston

    The reason that I disagree with doing away with public campaign financing is that the vast majority of Canadians are not realistically in a position to donate much or anything to the political party of their choice. Especially as we enter a time of economic uncertainty, most families are facing tight budgets and can’t afford to give $100 or more to a party without making sacrifices elsewhere. As a result, financing of political campaigns becomes the privilege of the very rich rather than the right of all people. For parties such as the NDP and Conservatives, who rely on the support of a lot of working-class people, this means they are handcuffed in terms of how much they can raise by the economic circumstances of their supporters. For parties like the Liberals, who rely on a small number of donations from those who can afford to give $1000, they will have a fundraising capacity that is radically out of line with their actual support.

    Basing public funding on the number of votes in the last election is somewhat problematic, but it is the only objective basis for support that the government can use.

  • http://devinjohnston.ca Devin Johnston

    The reason that I disagree with doing away with public campaign financing is that the vast majority of Canadians are not realistically in a position to donate much or anything to the political party of their choice. Especially as we enter a time of economic uncertainty, most families are facing tight budgets and can’t afford to give $100 or more to a party without making sacrifices elsewhere. As a result, financing of political campaigns becomes the privilege of the very rich rather than the right of all people. For parties such as the NDP and Conservatives, who rely on the support of a lot of working-class people, this means they are handcuffed in terms of how much they can raise by the economic circumstances of their supporters. For parties like the Liberals, who rely on a small number of donations from those who can afford to give $1000, they will have a fundraising capacity that is radically out of line with their actual support.

    Basing public funding on the number of votes in the last election is somewhat problematic, but it is the only objective basis for support that the government can use.

  • http://blog.ederek.net dbo789

    Agreed. Albeit I almost take it as a compliment. If all the Liberals can find bad about the Conservatives is a made up 'hidden agenda', it must mean that there isn't really anything substansial that they can point to as the Conservatives doing a bad job. In the absense of real goofs, they resort to making up this crap about a hidden agenda. Hopefully it works, albeit less and less as time goes on. I think people are starting to realize that if they Conservatives really had a hidden agenda, it would have either reared its head by now or the Liberals would have dug up what it actually is.

  • Fritz

    A couple of comments on your post.

    1. Americans did not turn out in record numbers, it was about the same(61%) as it was in 2004. Higher Dem numbers were offset by lower GOP numbers.
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/06/report-08-turnout-same-or-only-slightly-higher-than-04/
    2. Barack’s plan all along was to take public money – in fact going all private was seen as a major broken promise with many on the left . Of course none of them will complain now.

  • Fritz

    A couple of comments on your post.

    1. Americans did not turn out in record numbers, it was about the same(61%) as it was in 2004. Higher Dem numbers were offset by lower GOP numbers.
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/06/report-08-turnout-same-or-only-slightly-higher-than-04/
    2. Barack’s plan all along was to take public money – in fact going all private was seen as a major broken promise with many on the left . Of course none of them will complain now.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Consider that I mean that framing your opponent is less ideal that advocating purely on your own issues. My argument is that the system makes it necessary to take the low road and this can be changed by shifting the way parties are funded.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    Devin, we should take a look at the median donation of an Obama donor, the median donation of NDP and CPC supporters. You'll find that it's south of $100. This is accessible for most stakeholders of a democracy.

  • http://www.stephentaylor.ca Stephen Taylor

    1. Therefore, a record number turned out for Obama.

    2. Perhaps, and I wouldn't presume any politician innocent of even slight hypocrisy. Was fantastic that it ended up in a way where the victor in an election for POTUS didn't take a cent of public money.

  • LJB

    Funny you should mention Obama's fund raising. There are some serious allegations that the Democrat's turned off all the security features on their online websites allowing such people as “Adolf Hitler” and “Saddam Hussein” to contribute money. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of these allegations.

  • East of Eden

    Ah, okay. I didn’t see all of that when I read your original post. Harper still remains the classiest act we’ve had in a very long time. The guy is great.

  • jad

    Interesting comment by Tamara, which bears out what I think a lot of people have believed intuitively. However, the NDP raised more than the Liberals from a much smaller power base, so I'm not sure how that fits in.

    I think most Canadians would like to see the vote-based subsidy cut, and the current economic climate would seem a perfect time to do it – politicians showing they care about how taxpayers money is used in these troubled economic times. I think the basic argument for keeping the subsidies is that they help new parties get started, although Reform managed quite well on its own. If we are to keep subsidies, even in a reduced form, I would like to see them calculated on some kind of matching basis to the funds that a party can raise itself, which would be a way of either cutting the Bloc off at the knees, or forcing them to actually spend time raising funds. We could possibly have some combination of reduced subsidy of say $1 per vote, matching dollar for dollar funds raised by each party.

  • g

    I would not call the election of this guy a decisive win, any democrat should of won, and with a better margin, I mean really, he was running against g w bush, you know, the guy that has been vilified by the press and uninformed people,and the loonie left, the guy that destroyed terrorism, that my friend cost money, but we are definetly safer for it, imagine if the democrats would of been in power, you would still see bin ladden making interviews.
    as for the way the democrats raised money, no way, not here, that would be like buying an election, nooo thank you. as for obama, the racism, the sexism, the associations, this guy would not be able to get security clerance for deputy dog, and in this economic downturn, if you would be republican, who would you rather have in power. sorry but your blog does not point the obvious,

  • http://www.invisiblehand.ca/ The Invisible Hand

    According to opensecrets.org, a website on money in politics run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, Senator Obama raised $639 million during the 2008 Presidential election cycle with 91% of that sum coming from individual donations.

    There’s a big difference between the Conservative and Obama fundraising machines. As you note, the CPC war chest comes mostly from small donors. However (and I was very surprised when I discovered this recently), Obama’s comes mostly from big donors.

    According to the Washington Post, he only got about 25% of his money from small donors:
    Lost in the attention given to Obama’s Internet surge is that only a quarter of the $600 million he has raised has come from donors who made contributions of $200 or less, according to a review of his FEC reports. That is actually slightly less, as a percentage, than President Bush raised in small donations during his 2004 race, although Obama has pulled from a far larger number of donors. In 2004, the Bush campaign claimed more than 2 million donors, while the Obama campaign claims to have collected its total from more than 3.1 million individuals.

    In 2004, Bush got 31% of his money from small donors, while Kerry got 37% that way.

  • http://blog.ederek.net dbo789

    Not to mention, that in Canada, a $100 donation isn't really $100. You get 3/4ths of it back next tax cheque.

  • Steve

    Sorry, I have to call you on this “misrepresentation”:
    “A striking difference between campaigns was Obama’s refusal of public funding. The Illinois senator took $0 of public financing while his Republican counterpart from Arizona took over $84 million to make up 23% of his campaign’s spending power.”

    Obama’s refusal to accept the campaign dollars was NOT because he was concerned about taking tax payer money, just the opposite, by doing so he would be limited in how much he could raise (that’s the catch with accepting the government funds… and why it was created in the first place… and why NO president since BEFORE Regan has ever turned it down: to do so would be political suicide… unless you’re an agent of “change” of course).

    When Obama was running for the Democrat nomination, back in 2007 he PROMISED on a nationally televised debate that he would follow John McCain’s example and accept the funds and it’s limits on raising donations.

    Once the money can rolling in to defeat Hillary, he realized he actually like the power money brought… so he lied and said he “never committed” to such a thing… even though the quote and VIDEO is all over the internet.

    He SAID he was for change, and before he even locked up his own party’s nomination he was corrupted.

  • Steve

    Campaign “welfare” in the US comes with limits on how much you can raise. That was the POINT of such a system… to limit people from BUYING elections.

    The rich are NOT supposed to have the ability to BUY elections… but they clearly do; ESPECIALLY if they have a silver-tongue and the ability to network for MASSIVE fund raising. BIG government LOVES Obama’s no-holds-barred approach to fundraising… but it’s not change… it’s regression.

    I’m ashamed to see how a fellow American can be so dishonest and dupe 52% of the population into voting for him.

  • Steve

    I also need to point out, that these numbers you’re throwing around are merely the REPORTED amounts.

    1) The Dems are under fire for incorrectly accepting donations from non-citizens (i.e. resident aliens, illegal aliens, visiting foreign nationals, or blatently from over seas accounts). These numbers will change a bit when everything is adjusted to be “legally reported” donations.

    2) Both sides saw at LEAST as much money being “donated” through PACs (Political Action Commitees).

    PACs were created back in 1948, but only took off in the past two decades. The bulk of PAC “freedom” laws were pushed through by Democrats under President Clinton until the latest ugly one in 2000, which the Dems pushed for limiting the IRS from seeing who donated to PACs (changed their requirements to file IRS taxes… now tax free, effectively giving them “church/charity” status and hence no reporting of donors/amounts).

  • http://nbtaxpayers.blogspot.com/ nbt

    In Canada, the Reform Party under Preston Manning started a tradition of passing the hat in church basements and legion halls during rallies, speeches or simple administrative meetings. A donation of $5, $20 or $100 was passed on to bring change to Ottawa.

    I agree. But part of both Obama's and Manning's fundraising efforts and strategies were buoyed by the fact that they represented something ideologically different then their opponents. In the Reform party's case, it was the elitism and mismanagement of both the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals in Ottawa. In Obama's case, the corruption and mismanagement of the Republicans in Washington.

    Once that “anything but” aura wares off, it will be much more difficult to tap into such an ethos via small donations.

  • http://searchingforliberty.blogspot.com/ Rob Harvie

    Just a thought.. as per my own blog today, studies suggest that Conservative bloggers and in particular, “Blogging Tories” significantly outnumbers the Libs and NDP in number of blogs and postings.. one might imagine a “point and click” donation machine that could be used to facilitate individual donations to the Conservative Party, that individual bloggers could append to each of the websites, as they do with the “Blogging Tories” feed for example. Just a thought.

  • Alex

    Stephen Taylor, you are an evil genius.

  • bill

    One quick thought: I'm not sure about your conclusion that private support of political parties might make Cdn politics more positive. I seem to remember several fundraising emails from the CPC during the election, exhorting us to dig deeper for more $$…the given reason was usually to stop Dion and his tax, not to re-elect PMSH.

    Is perhaps fear a more effective fund-raising technique than inspiration?

  • Johan i Kanada

    Obviously a record number turned out for Obama, as he hadn’t run before. Any number would have been a record number with Stephen’s definition (aka rationalization).

    For Pete’s sake, Stephen, just admit that you erroneously believed the media hype about record turnout, and admit your mistake..

  • Ryan

    Losing campaign funding won't make a bit of difference. The only thing that will get the parties to take the high road will be single transferable vote.

  • Ryan

    Losing campaign funding won't make a bit of difference. The only thing that will get the parties to take the high road will be single transferable vote.