On Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative leadership victory: big money guys finish first (nice guys, not so much)

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PHOTOS: Tory volunteers and armed guards move cash into Jason Kenney’s campaign vault. Actual Progressive Conservative bag people and security measures may not appear exactly as illustrated. (Photo … dimly recalled when needed … University of Victoria Archives.) Below: Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and badly outspent leadership contender Richard Starke.

Jason Kenney has now officially broken his promise to publish the names of his leadership campaign donors who gave him money before the formal campaign started, but that’s not as much of a shocker as the sheer amount of money he admitted spending to capture the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party.

According to his Elections Alberta filing, Mr. Kenney spent $1.46 million on his successful hostile reverse takeover of the PCs, thereby setting the stage to turn the mostly welcoming dynasty that ran Alberta for 44 years into a darker, nastier, smaller-tent version of the Wildrose Party.

Mr. Kenney drummed up nearly a million and a half free-floating Canadian Loonies, and more like $2 million when you count the additional still-anonymous donations to Mr. Kenney’s “Unite Alberta PAC slush fund, presumably to ensure that progressive conservatism dies forever in Alberta and conservative voters have no options come election time but to move much farther to the right or hold their noses and vote for parties they have traditionally spurned.

Close to $130,000 of this sum was spent on campaign travel expenses, though Mr. Kenney claimed to be couch surfing at the time to save money. Hmmmmm …

Once the contest had officially begun, broken promises notwithstanding, Mr. Kenney was required by law to name donors who kicked in more than $250, a group of people that included such well-known billionaires as Fred Mannix and Nancy Southern, who each donated more than $20,000, and former prime minister Stephen Harper, who contributed a comparably paltry $1,700. There were several donations by less well-known but obviously well-heeled individuals surpassing $25,000.

In response to the growing brouhaha about the size of his expenses, especially relative to those of other candidates, some of Mr. Kenney’s (paid?) supporters on social media took to doxxing critics who noted his broken promise or were otherwise critical of his spending levels. (“Dox. Verb, informal. Search for and publish private or identifying information about [a particular individual] on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.”)

Needless to say, this kind activity gives license to some of the nastiest characters on the Internet to get up to the same kind of anti-social behaviour. If you think this sounds like a cheap imitation of the sort of thing Donald Trump’s campaign did south of the now-harder-for-Canadians-to-cross Medicine Line, it would be hard to disagree.

Of course, Kenney critics can also expect to be called “communists,” a kind of invective that used to be disapproved of in that innocent time not so long ago when Alberta’s conservatives, most of them anyway, were led by premier Ed Stelmach. But that was then and this, thanks to the arrival of Mr. Kenney on the provincial scene, is now.

In fact, I’m willing to bet, there was really more than $1.4 million available to Mr. Kenney’s campaign, at least in the form of a pool of guaranteed cash to draw upon if necessary to ensure he was elected.

That is to say, if the No. 2 candidate – the thoroughly decent Richard Starke – had come up with more than $162,603, additional donations would soon have been available to Mr. Kenney to ensure he was able to outspend and out-organize the MLA and retired veterinarian from Vermilion, or any other candidate.

Speaking of Mr. Stelmach, as we were, he donated $382.50 to Dr. Starke’s quixotic effort.

As it turned out, presumably, outspending Dr. Starke nine to one was deemed, accurately enough, to be sufficient by Mr. Kenney’s bankrollers. With the small amounts spent by the other two leadership candidates left in the race after the female contenders had been driven out by Mr. Kenney’s supporters, the partly anonymously funded candidate outspent all of his remaining competitors by seven to one.

As the CBC pointed out in its coverage of the publication by Elections Alberta of the PC leadership candidates’ spending reports on Monday, Mr. Kenney’s campaign expenses included a non-refundable $30,000 fee to the party in order to be on the ballot, and a $20,000 compliance bond to encourage candidates to obey the rules, of which he had to forfeit an insignificant $5,000 for ignoring the rules.

But the bulk of the money, more than $660,000 went to paid organizers, and, in fairness, presumably the bulk of the travel expenses run up while Mr. Kenney couch surfed did as well.

So while it is true that the former Harper Government cabinet minister and unrepentant paleo-social-conservative has a justified reputation as a hard and effective campaigner, it is also worth noting that well over half a million dollars would have bought Dr. Starke, or candidates like Stephen Khan, Byron Nelson, Donna Kennedy-Glans or Sandra Jansen, a heck of a lot of expert organizers too.

All across Canada initiatives by governments to get the big money out of politics are proving popular with voters.

Mr. Kenney is doing his bit to keep the big money in.

But look at it his way, and from the perspective of his deep-pocketed supporters. Big money guys tend to finish first in our kind of society. Nice guys? Not so much.

NDP still leads in second quarter fundraising

Having gotten the PC leadership bombshell out of the way, yesterday Elections Alberta yesterday published its second-quarter financial disclosure results from the province’s political parties.

The results show the ruling NDP led by Premier Rachel Notley still slightly in the lead for donations in the April-to-June quarter, even when constituency donations to the Wildrose Opposition are added in. The government party is entitled to crow about this.

Still, too much ought not to be read into this narrow differential, since cash is probably not readily flowing to the two main conservative parties at normal rates with the outcome of this weekend’s merger vote still unsettled.

The NDP raised $553,733 in the second quarter, compared with $511,704 for the Wildrose Party, a sum that includes constituency donations, which the NDP does not accept. The PCs raised $78,252, the Alberta Party $37,969, and the Alberta Liberals $33,845.

NOTE: This post has been edited to clarify the source of the donations not reported as promised by Mr. Kenney’s campaign.

Categories Alberta Politics