Friday, September 16, 2011

Leadership 2012: Rulebook Review

As promised, let's take a quick look through the NDP's official leadership rules. On the whole, the regulations don't look to particularly favour any one candidate - but they do include a few noteworthy twists which may help to shape the outcome.

The Soft Cap

The $500,000 spending cap has received plenty of attention as one of the race's ground rules. But there's one important exception: under section 7(d), the list of expenditures not counted under the cap includes "(a)ny expenses for fund-raising".

So what impact might that have on the race?

For one thing, it means that candidates who expect to spend to the cap will have a relative incentive to invest in fund-raising as compared to any other aspect of their campaign. So while membership recruitment and persuasion figure to take place more as volunteer operations, I'd expect to see the fund-raising side mostly handled professionally.

What's perhaps most interesting, though, is the prospect that a candidate could use extensive fund-raising as a means of carrying out more advertising and paid outreach than might otherwise be allowed.

I've pointed out before that a fund-raising campaign at the party level can have plenty of effects beyond raising money alone. And the incentives set up within the NDP's rules may go even further - encouraging not only fund-raising to the last incremental dollar, but fund-raising campaigns which merely break even. (Indeed, a candidate who already figures to have extra money in the bank might rationally choose to "fund-raise" at a loss in order to be able to spread his or her message through more paid channels.)

As to who stands to benefit from the rule, it's tough to say in advance which candidate will find the best strategy to take advantage of the fund-raising exception. But the big winner figures to be the party itself: not only will it recoup 15% of the funds raised as well as the surplus from any candidate who fund-raises more than he or she can spend during the leadership race, but it surely figures to build whatever creative strategies the candidates can develop into its long-term fund-raising plan.

Forum Selection

The NDP's ground rules specify that at least one leadership forum will be held in each of the five designated regions as part of a cross-Canada tour (section 11(d)), and that official leadership debate will start roughly 90 days before the convention (section 4(e)). But by specifying only that the tour will happen before "voting day", the rules leave open the question of whether the plan is to hold forums in each region before the February 18 membership cutoff - and I'd hope part of the planning will involve ensuring that each region gets to hear from the registered candidates before it's too late to sign up new members.

Mind the Gap

One of the effects of a leadership vote held relatively early in the year is that it raises questions as to how to handle what may be a large number of yearly memberships which expire in the middle of the race. And the regulations issued so far only point out the issue rather than answering it.

Instead, under section 15(a) it falls to the Chief Electoral Officer to determine whether or not members who lapse at the 2011 year-end will be entitled to vote. And while there's some obvious potential for debate among the candidates as to which path to follow depending on their relative reliance on existing and new memberships, I'd think it's especially important to see a final decision on that point in time to allow candidates to plan their member recruitment strategies.

[Edit: fixed link.]

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