A Conservative party that's being buffeted by a Senate spending scandal continued to raise more money than its political opponents in the third quarter this year, but the gap is narrowing.The Tory fundraising machine pulled in just over $3.4-million in July, August and September, according to Elections Canada, almost as much as the Liberal and New Democratic parties combined.
But one of the big Conservative fundraising advantages – the sheer number of donors – is no longer the governing party's ace in the hole.
The Liberals under leader Justin Trudeau raised just under $2.2-million and did it by tapping 30,108 donors – more than 1,000 more than the Tories.
The Conservatives had fewer than 29,000 donors in the quarter.
It was the party's lowest total since early 2012 – and the first time Conservatives have had fewer donors than Liberals in a quarter since the modern Conservative party was created a decade ago.
The NDP raised just over $1.5-million from about 22,000 contributors.
Since Elections Canada began tracking quarterly results in 2007, the Liberals had never cracked 30,000 donors in a quarter until April, May and June this year, when more than 38,000 individuals contributed.
Liberal party spokeswoman Andree-Lynn Halle said in an email that 8,270 donors in the third quarter were first-time contributors, bringing total first-time donor numbers for the year to date to 20,593.
"To us, these numbers clearly show that support for the Liberal party is growing and strong and that the Liberal party and its leader are attracting new support and interest all across the country," Halle wrote.
It may be no coincidence the Liberals rolled out new TV ads this week, although the size of the ad buy has not been made public.
Liberal party donations through nine months this year totalled $6.8-million, up $1.25-million over the same period last year. The NDP was down $750,000 to just under $4.5-million compared to the same period a year ago.
The Tories remain the kings of the donor game, raising $12.75-million so far this year, up by about $580,000 over the same nine-month period in 2012.
The Conservative party's microtargeting of supporters and its massive donor base have set the standard in Canadian political fundraising for years – and permitted the party to out-advertise its opponents, including ground-breaking attack ads between election periods.
Elections Canada records show that since 2007 the Tories routinely attracted between 35,000 and 45,000 contributors a quarter and sometimes topped 50,000.
It has given the Conservatives a big advantage, as first Liberal and then Conservative governments enacted rules ratcheting down the amounts individual donors may contribute in a year.
Tory supporters are gathering this weekend in Calgary for a policy convention amidst the most damaging controversy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his party since they took power.
The latest revelation in a Senate expense scandal involving three Harper appointees is that the party paid more than $13,000 to cover Sen. Mike Duffy's legal costs as he was being secretly paid $90,000 by the prime minister's former chief of staff.
Harper says the payment by Nigel Wright to Duffy was clearly out of line but has defended the payment of Duffy's legal fees in the same transaction as routine.
Conservative MP Steven Fletcher says party donors may not like the Duffy payment but he doesn't believe it will impact overall contributions.
"We're talking about tens of millions of dollars of donations," to the party over the years, Fletcher said this week.
"I think people are very proud to donate to the Conservative party and feel it's a good investment in their country."