Sunday, October 31, 2010

On communication resources

As promised, let's follow up on the MP expense numbers released last week with a closer look at who spent what - and how it fits into the larger picture of public spending on political messaging.

For that purpose, I've put together a quick spreadsheet dividing up listed MP expenses for 2009 by party affiliation. If anybody wants to double-check my data entry or play around with the results, I'll be happy to pass along the raw data (which looks to be a few hundred dollars off the disclosure summary on householder totals, and within a cent on ten percenters).

Here are the party expenses for householders and ten percenters for 2009, along with the percentage of the total expenses in each department by party. The percentages won't correlate perfectly due to the difference between the householder numbers used and the total taken from the official summary, but the broad trends should be fairly clear.

Party Householder $ Householder % Ten Percenter $ Ten Percenter % Overall $ Overall %
Cons $2,085,664.82 45.4% $6,410.979.65 63.0% $8,496,644.47 57.5%
Libs $1,173,004.97 25.5% $1,450,559.81 14.2% $2,623,564.78 17.8%
Bloc $702,598.97 15.3% $1,033,958.73 10.2% $1,736,557.70 11.8%
NDP $628,928.64 13.7% $1,287,209.52 12.6% $1,916,138.16 13.0%

So even in the types of materials available to all parties in Parliament, the Cons have been using up a disproportionate share of the resources put into political messaging. And indeed the above suggests that eliminating ten percenters out of an MP's riding was a smart short-term move by the opposition - though I remain unconvinced the opposition parties shouldn't have instead done more to use the medium themselves.

But wait, there's more! The picture is even more galling when one takes into account the resources at the Cons' disposal as a government out of the $239,577,131 in total expenses generally amounting to actual or potential political communications spending for 2009:

Party Name PMO/Cabinet Advertising MP Party Total Total %
Cons $67,600,000 $130,000,000 $8,496,644.47 $10,351,071 $216,447,715.47 90.3%
Libs n/a n/a $2,623,564.78 $7,219,593 $9,873,157.78 4.1%
Bloc n/a n/a $1,736,557.70 $2,742,215 $4,478,772.70 1.9%
NDP n/a n/a $1,916,138.16 $4,998,192 $6,914,330.16 2.9%
Greens n/a n/a n/a $1,863,155 $1,863,155 0.8%

The above includes the PMO, cabinet and government advertising expenses which have been widely reported in recent days. And while I wouldn't disagree with the view that these amounts shouldn't be used for political purposes, they look to make for a vital part of the picture given how each have been used for direct political messaging by the Harper Cons.

Now, if I'm missing anything that could be included in the "funding for political messages" picture as analogous expenses favouring opposition messages (or otherwise providing a more complete view), I'm open to suggestions.

As the picture looks now, though, a party with 38% of the vote and 47% of the seats in the House of Commons is controlling over 90% of the public money used for political communications. And it actually has the chutzpah to be trying to raise popular outrage over the lone part of that funding which isn't thoroughly biased in the Cons' favour - because apparently Harper and company feel the need to push the number up to 93%97% by further eliminating any direct links between votes and funding.

All of which is to say that there's ample room to make a case that the real problem with public funding for political communications has nothing at all to do with the per-vote subsidy. And the Cons may want to be careful how much outrage they try to build lest it be turned back against their far more appalling amounts spent promoting themselves.

Update/edit: Joe has more on the printing expenses of the Cons' Saskatchewan MPs. And the above end number is fixed based on the Cons' own share of printing expenses - which would be the only factor left to offer any communication resources for the opposition.

Edit II - Fixed reversed columns in second chart.

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