Friday, January 27, 2012

On responsible management

Tobi Cohen's report on fund-raising in the NDP's leadership race ends up serving largely as an analysis of Nathan Cullen's position and fund-raising to date due to his willingness to provide a donor list before it's required. (Which nicely signals the value of working with media on that type of story.)

But let's connect the dollar figures from the NDP's campaign to the ones involved in the last national leadership race.

As a starting point, the Libs' leadership candidates in 2006 ended their campaigns over $4 million in debt - meaning that their expenditures exceeded their campaign fund-raising by that amount.

For the NDP's contenders, that cumulative level of debt is simply impossible. The expense limits for the eight candidates would total $4 million if every candidate spent the maximum - which is itself a questionable assumption. But every dollar fund-raised reduces the amount of debt that could possibly be left. And Cullen's data looks like a useful data point on that front.

While I'm curious to see whether I've missed anything, I don't recall his campaign doing much on the fund-raising front that the other contenders haven't. And yet even at a stage of the race focused more on membership sales than fund-raising (which will of course change after next month's membership deadline), Cullen has managed to reach approximately a third of the total he could possibly be allowed to spend.

We can compare that number to the proportion of the Libs' ultimate expenses which they had raised by a later point in their 2006 leadership race, being the first mandatory reporting deadline 4 weeks before the vote. And the numbers show a couple of patterns which look to be radically different for the NDP's candidates.

First, the Libs' front-runners didn't have much trouble fund-raising from the start of the race, but ran into problems later due to their high spending totals. Michael Ignatieff had fund-raised over a million dollars by the first reporting period, but spent slightly over twice that for the campaign as a whole. Bob Rae raised just below a million, but spent about three times that. And likewise Gerard Kennedy, who raised just over $400,000 by the first reporting period, spent about three times that.

The pattern was relatively similar for the next tier of candidates. Martha Hall Findlay was only at about a quarter of her ultimate expense total; Ken Dryden was somewhat below the one-third threshold as of the first deadline and never got caught up; and Joe Volpe was just around the one-third level as well.

Meanwhile, Scott Brison had raised over half of his total expenditures by the first reporting deadline. And Hedy Fry, Maurizio Bevilacqua and Carolyn Bennett all dropped out of the race, with Bevilacqua the lone candidate to incur particularly large debts before doing so.

And then there was Stephane Dion. By the first reporting deadline, he had raised just over $270,000 - only to spend over seven times that in winning the race.

So what can we take from that comparison? Well, based on the NDP's spending limit Cullen is at a better place in terms of fund-raising his possible final spending total than any of the Libs' 2006 candidates except Brison in raw dollars, or Brison and Ignatieff in terms of percentages. And that's with another month left before the first reporting period used as the point of comparison for the Libs.

At the same time, based on the amount of money raised by the Libs' front-runners without seemingly breaking a sweat, there should be little doubt that the NDP's front-runners will have no trouble raising their total spending limit or more during the course of the campaign. (Though of course we'll have to confirm that when the first disclosures are made.) And unlike Ignatieff, Rae and Dion, the Mulcairs and Topps of the NDP's race won't be able to get into a multi-million dollar spending war that leaves them with debt despite strong early-campaign fund-raising.

So the NDP figures to see its front-runners easily cover their costs. And Cullen and anybody else fund-raising reasonably well from a trail position should also have relatively little trouble breaking even for the campaign period. What's more, even if a candidate somehow spends the maximum without raising a dime, the downside is roughly the average debt incurred by the Libs' candidates.

Now, none of the above should be a huge surprise based on the spending limit set by the NDP. But it's worth highlighting to show how the NDP's choice of rules nicely closed off any risk of having to spend years fund-raising to made up leadership debts - and Cullen's example suggests that the candidates themselves may be slightly ahead of even the pace we'd have expected based on that low-risk choice.

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