Every week during the campaign, The Election Index highlights important numbers to help you understand the shape of the race.
Elections Alberta released political party financial records this week, covering the first quarter of 2015, that suggest the NDP is in a very strong position. The New Democrats raised $406,883, the second highest party total behind the Progressive Conservatives. It is the first time the NDP has raised more than the Wildrose in several years. Equally important, it is much better than the first-quarter fundraising numbers from 2014, when the NDP raised $123,398.
This is important because it suggests the NDP surge in recent polls probably is not a mere two-week blip likely to disappear just as quickly. Rather, donation records imply the NDP is in a much greater position of strength than in past years.
The contribution limit to an Alberta political party by an eligible donor is $30,000 during a campaign period (minus anything given throughout the rest of the year). During non-campaign periods, the limit is $15,000. Some additional donations can be made to constituency associations.
To some, this will sound quite high. In Ontario, the limit is $9,975 a year to a party, with an identical amount additionally allowed during election campaigns. At the federal level, donors can give only $1,500 a year to each party, and corporate and union donations are banned. British Columbia has no limit. In a single year, corporations there have given as much as a quarter of a million dollars to a party.
While Alberta's image as the Wild West is usually unfounded, one area where its "no rules" reputation might be earned is in its campaign spending laws: There aren't any. There is simply no limit to how much a party can spend, and no mechanism for public reporting of party expenses.
Most other provinces and territories have rules about spending. For example, Saskatchewan limits parties to $984,597, with local candidates able to spend additional amounts, while Manitoba allows central parties to spend $1.92 per registered voter.
80 per cent:
Wading through the financial data reveals that 80 per cent of the donations to the PC Party above $250 were from corporations, while just 20 per cent came from individuals. Even if we assume that all donations under $250 were from individuals, the PCs would still have received 75 per cent of their donations from corporations. Other parties' donations above $250 were considerably less corporate, ranging from the upstart Alberta Party at 40 per cent, with the remainder of the bigger parties at between 1 and 8 per cent. While most union donations went to the NDP, they still made up only 17 per cent of the party's total.
Identifying donations from individuals further reveals a real strength of the NDP. Looking at just individual donations above $250, the NDP raised the most money ($177,096). The PCs trailed by about $20,000. If we assume all donations under $250 were from individuals, the news for the PC Party is even worse: The NDP raised the most money from individuals with $362,431, while the Wildrose was about $10,000 behind this. The PCs were a distant third at $200,331.
This does not necessarily spell doom for the PCs. Their strength is somewhat underrated by measuring donations to parties, as the PCs do a reasonable proportion of their fundraising for their constituency associations, which report separately. Moreover, they still raised the most money, and a few weeks is a long time in an election campaign. What it really suggests is that the recent rise by opposition parties in the polls cannot be easily dismissed as ephemeral because it is backed up by one of the most important numbers in any campaign: money.
Paul Fairie is a political scientist at the University of Calgary, where he studies voter behaviour.