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EDITORIAL – New civic election expense rules penalize newcomers

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

CAMPAIGN FINANCIAL DISCLOSURES released by Elections BC for last fall’s civic election seem to reveal a long-held suspicion — big spending wins elections.

It isn’t as simple as that, though. Yes, the winners in the election for Kamloops City council were certainly among the biggest spenders.

Mike O’Reilly topped everybody with more than $23,000. With the number of votes he got, it came to a per-vote cost of about $2.45. Pretty pricey.

Arjun Singh, Kathy Sinclair and Mayor Ken Christian spent close to O’Reilly. The eight winning council candidates were all in the top 10 spenders.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s that thing about name recognition. One would think those with higher public profiles would automatically spend less, but in practice, higher name recognition makes it easier to attract more donations.

Here’s the other wrinkle at play. New campaign financing rules came into effect for the first time with that election. One of them is a limit of $1,200 per person on campaign donations, with the exception being the candidate, who can chip in up to $2,400.

Corporate and union donations — once a staple of civic election campaigns, became prohibited.

The $2,400 maximum on self-financing is severely limiting to new faces just getting into politics. Under the old rules, a candidate could self-finance most or all of his or her campaign. Now that the days of low-cost civic campaigns are over, it’s tough for new candidates to raise thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from supporters. So, they’re pretty much stuck within that new, lower limit, while incumbents and other high-profile candidates carry on as usual.

Those new rules aimed at leveling the playing field may be doing just the opposite.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6550 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – New civic election expense rules penalize newcomers

  1. These lower spending limits also encourage candidates to ‘build their name’ in other ways in the community: doing volunteer work, etc. That’s a good thing.

    • A good thing? Not really. I can think of a few people trying to do just that and I hope they will never be on council. But there is a real danger they may be on council one day.

  2. Higher public profile…for better or worse that’s a key element in all of this.
    People interested in running for council should entertain the good idea to be become involved much earlier on than when an official election campaign gets underway. Personally, I only seriously considered voting for someone who has shown an ongoing community involvement for causes aligned with my own values…money will then flow accordingly.

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