Let’s start with a few facts I think we can all agree on:
- Money is integral to the electoral process; campaigning to reach voters requires resources that aren’t free.
- Equality – fairness – is integral to democracy.
To reconcile those two facts, solid, effective legislation is required to create a level playing field.
Legislation which caps the amount of money, and thereby influence, any person can impose upon any candidate or party.
Legislation which prohibits corporate political donations, because the sole reason a corporation donates is to purchase political access and favourable policy and legislation development so it can make more money, upon which it will donate more money.
See how that’s a problem?
Which brings us to a third, indisputable fact:
Legislation creating a equal political playing field exists everywhere in Canada except Saskatchewan, and as a result the Saskatchewan political playing field is not equal.
Political candidates in Saskatchewan are not players, they are pawns who can be bought and sold to the highest bidder.
With that in mind, let’s look at the Sask Party leadership candidate’s first round of financial disclosures, shall we?
The Big Picture
What does the above tell us? Not much, really.
Ken Cheveldayoff’s piggybank is a bit fuller, but not overwhelmingly, and not enough to give him a commanding financial edge. Just under half of Tina Beaudry-Mellor‘s total funds are her own (well, on paper they’re from her husband, but I’m calling his money her money because feminism), and most of the rest appears to come from her friends and family, so that’s really all I have to say about that.
The Slightly More Detailed Picture
Things get somewhat interesting when we begin to break down where the other four candidates’ cash is coming from:
We know that the Sask Party is a party currently driven by corporate interests. It’s indisputable after looking at their donor rolls, and it’s become normalized in Saskatchewan, so the fact that the majority of each candidate’s donations come from corporations is no surprise.
That said, things get really interesting when you break down the industries and regions from where each candidate’s cash is flowing.
(Note – I originally included donors names, but was then warned at least one major donor in the past has attempted to stifle media reports of his/her political donations via legal action. That’s bullshit, and they weren’t successful, but I don’t have the resources or inclination to deal with that.)
Of Koch‘s 29 corporate donors, at least 12 are all companies owned by one guy, an uber-wealthy developer from Regina with business interests all over the province and the country. Of Koch’s $50,500 in total corporate donations, his companies ponied up $20,125. There’s no tax benefit for leadership donations, and all of his companies are multi-million dollar companies, so IMO the only reason for spreading the love is 29 corporate donors sounds a lot better than 17.
Her single largest donation was $10,000 was from another Regina-based businessperson.
Bottom line: approximately two-thirds of Koch’s corporate donations came from two people. They may be powerful people, but that’s not nearly the amount of corporate influence she needs and frankly, it’s stunning.
Wyant‘s overall ratio of corporate to individual donations is high, but far more balanced within the details. He definitely has two big donors padding his coffers, but they don’t comprise the majority.
Further, Wyant is the only candidate to not have received cash from out-of-province donors, which is a-okay by my standards.
Wyant also received the largest single donation from a sitting MLA, who also happens to be a Cabinet Minister – $2000 from Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart.
Like Koch’s, much of Chevy’s support is compressed within a few corporations.
His top five corporations donated $10,000 each. One is a lawyer from Ontario who I’m guessing is a friend. One is a Calgary-based oil and busy-business guy, one is a Saskatchewan farming corporation, one is a Saskatchewan property management company and one is a Saskatchewan-owned business.
I’ve got to give credit where it’s due – I was surprised and impressed by the depth and breadth of the industries donating to Chevy’s campaign. There is a nice mix of Saskatchewan-owned and operated small businesses ranging from agriculture, financial services, trucking and wildlife outfitters to doctors, lawyers and blue-collar businesses. There’s some oil money, but it’s not dominant, and there’s some out of province money, but not nearly as much as I thought there would be.
Really, the most egregious thing about Chevy’s financial disclosure statement might be the spelling mistakes.
I mean seriously nobody’s perfect, but if you want to be Premier at least get a second set of eyes on this stuff.
Scott Moe‘s individual donations reflect the same patterns as Koch’s corporate – one big donation skewing the overall picture.
41% of Moe’s $61600 in individual donations came from one guy – a guy who also happens to own a construction company with a flood of government contracts, including one at the GTH. Do I really need to say any moe?
Of those 22 MLAs that are endorsing Moe, only two have put their money where their mouth is: Jim Reiter and Fred Bradshaw have each pitched in $1000.
Apparently donors aren’t too worried about going all in on one candidate, because the vast majority of them have only donated to one candidate, with a few exceptions:
- Gord Wyant and Ken Cheveldayoff share the most donors at eight;
- Scott Moe shares the most donors, period, with 18 of his donors also having donated to one or two of the other candidates;
- A handful of donors gave money to each of Wyant, Moe and Chevy;
- Koch shares the least amount of donors at 10, and six of those are with Moe.
What Does It All Mean?
It means a grand total of ten businessmen (they’re all men) – nine from Saskatchewan and one from Ontario – are currently responsible for over 50% of the corporate funding* of the race for the next Premier of Saskatchewan.
(*an early version of this post said they were responsible for 50% of all donations, but I amended that – math isn’t my strong suit. It’s still a staggering number.)
In a province of one million people.
For a party of, at last rumoured count, 15,000 members.
I mean, overall no candidate is setting the world on fire when it comes to donations. There’s not a funding gap between the top four that is wide enough to allow one candidate to get an edge on another, and all are within reach of the spending limit of $250,000.
But every candidate’s funding is skewed by a tight concentration of funding from one or two backers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, every single one of which has a significant interest to boost or protect.
Grass Is Always Greener, Sort Of
A quick look at how Saskatchewan’s leadership rules compare to our neighbours:
Alberta – donors can only contribute $4000 per year combined between parties, candidates etc. Donors must be residents of Alberta. Corporations or non-profit corporations or organizations are not allowed to donate.
However, unlike Sask Party leadership candidates who are limited to a paltry quarter million bucks, there are no limits on leadership campaign spending in Alberta.
For example, recent Progressive Conservative leadership contest winner Jason Kenney spent $1.5 million, or seven times as much on his campaign as the other three candidates combined.
Meanwhile to the east, only individuals who are residents of Manitoba may contribute to a leadership contestant. No contributions are allowed from organizations or corporations, profit or otherwise. There are no limits on spending, but Premier Brian Palliser only spent $152,000 to win his bid in 2011.
(BTW, while we’re talking donations, here is the brand new and shiny Patreon link you beautiful people have been asking for. Thank you so much for support and for reading.)
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For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime about either at firstname.lastname@example.org.