Canadian Social Democracy Study


The NDP Needs a New Attitude Towards Fundraising

Fundraising for public office is not a new concept. However, do the left-of-centre parties in this age of politics have the stomach to play this game as hard as their opponents?

Members of the NDP largely view fundraising as the last thing they want to do. Compared to the recent financial numbers put up by federal Conservatives or Liberals, the New Democrats’ numbers are nowhere close. One of the problems is that we do not engage in fundraising with the same zeal as the other parties.

Candidates in the NDP will engage in organizing and communications, before they engage in fundraising. There are very few who view fundraising in the same light as organizing roles or developing new policy ideas. Because of this there are very few professional fundraisers within the NDP from coast to coast.

Perhaps, the NDP’s lackadaisical attitude towards fundraising can be traced back to our cynicism about the role that corporate money plays in democratic politics.  When comes to fundraising, NDPers become exasperated because the odds are always stacked against us due to our opponents ability to call on wealthy donors.   

However, we must realize that social change does not come cheap. Any means to motivate and influence the electorate costs money: staffing, renting offices, making leaflets and buttons, advertising on television, in print, or online.

In some ways, making social change is harder than the past. In the new age of social media and communication voters have become more aware of our system’s flaws. It is a combination of awareness of corruption and being sold the idea that the individual has no power that disenfranchises the voter. In the past, right-wing parties and the rich bought votes. Now, in the modern age, those with power and money rely on apathy.

In short, the NDP needs a new attitude towards fundraising to combat growing voter apathy and prevent people from ‘checking out’ of the political system.

The NDP should continue to point out the flaws in our present systems of party financing. One of the biggest problems is the enormous variation in campaign financing rules across Canada. In Quebec, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, there is a ban on corporate and labour donations. Quebec and Manitoba also give public subsidies to political parties based on their number of votes in the previous general election.

Throughout Canada there are limits to how much an individual can donate in a given year - except in British Columbia. British Columbia often referred to as the wild west of political contributions because it has no limits on giving amongst individuals, labour or corporations. Political donors in BC do not even need to be in the province or indeed the country.

At the federal level, the Chretien government set the limit for total contributions for an individual is $1,200 and disallowed corporations and unions to contribute. However, the Harper government has undermined this system by eliminating public subsidies to political parties and increasing the donation limit.

New Democrats across Canada must come together to push for systems of party finance that ban corporate and union donations, place a cap on individual donations, and put in place per-vote public subsidies.

At the same time that we push for better campaign financing laws, New Democrats have to become more sophisticated and aggressive in our fundraising.  New Democrats who specialize in fundraising across the country must come together to share best practices and learn new techniques.

So, when comes to fundraising, the NDP needs to both change the rules of the game and to become better at the game.  Voter apathy is growing and it costs money to get people to pay attention to the issues that we think are important. If the NDP wants to change the world, changing our attitude towards fundraising has to become one of our top priorities.

Rob Nagai has worked in many campaigns under many different roles in the NDP. Only over the last few years has embraced fundraising. He now works full time as the Major Gifts Fundraiser for the BC NDP.





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University of Saskatchewan St. Thomas More College, U of S

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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