With the Liberal leadership race in full swing and getting close to its climax, the money is flying.
© Submitted photo
The five Liberal leadership candidates — Dwight Ball, Cathy Bennett, Danny Dumeresque, Jim Bennett, and Paul Antle — pose with Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones during Wednesday’s open forum in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Regulations of the campaign set out by the Liberal party have no rules of any kind when it comes to donations or spending limits, which means each of the five contenders can take as much as they can get, and spend as much as they want.
Candidates are buying TV, radio, and print advertising, along with automated “robocalls,” ads on social media and flyers sent out to households across the province.
Dwight Ball and Paul Antle both say they’ve spent about $100,000 on the campaign so far — probably a little bit more. Cathy Bennett told The Telegram she’s probably spent a little less than $100,000 — not counting the $20,000 entry fee that each candidate had to pay to get in the race.
All five candidates promised that when the race is over, they’ll disclose how much they spent in total.
But only Danny Dumaresque would commit to provide a list of the people who donated to his campaign after it was over.
The other four candidates said they accepted donations from people on the understanding that the names would not be made public, so they’d have to check with donors before disclosing anything.
All five candidates told The Telegram that it would have been better if there were some sort of rules governing spending and donations.
“As a former chairman of the standing committee on election financing, I do believe there’s an appropriate measure of spending that should take place in all election contests, similar to what we’ve decided to do in provincial elections,” Dumaresque said.
“I think we should look at it as a party. That being said, I accept the rules of this particular contest, and while I’m surprised at the level of spending that I can see, I don’t have any issue with it.”
Antle went a step further, saying he would change the law to bring in spending limits.
“When I become premier, I’ll change the rules to make sure that all leadership contests will be conducted under the Elections Act,” he said. “We should have some guidelines that are legislated and not just at the whim of the political party. It creates equity and balance and access to the process for all people that are interested in running.”
But it’s the issue of political donations where the five candidates have very different perspectives.
Cathy Bennett, for example, said she decided to come up with some rules for herself and her campaign, given that the party didn’t set up rules for all the candidates.
She said her campaign won’t accept any single donation larger than $10,000, and she doesn’t want to know who’s giving her the money.
“As the candidate, one of the other policies is that I don’t want to be aware of the list. I don’t want to know who the donors are,” she said. “So, our chair of our fundraising and our CFO have that information. At the end of the campaign I’m given the total, but I’m not given the names, because I want to be removed from that.”
Bennett said because of this, she couldn’t even say if anybody had given anything close to the $10,000 maximum.
She would, however, reveal one big donor to her campaign: herself. Bennett said at the get-go, she put $50,000 into the campaign personally, and another $50,000 contribution from the companies she owns.
Jim Bennett, meanwhile, wouldn’t say who he’s getting donations from, or how much he’s getting. He said he thinks there should have been limits and rules put in place before the start of the campaign, but he won’t impose any special rules for himself.
“It’s voluntarily putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage, when the party really should have made those rules,” he said. “Cheques show up. What am I supposed to do, send them back and say ‘no thanks’ because I think I’m going to disclose it? The disclosure issue never came up until now. Nobody has even suggested that it was remotely possible.”
Ball had a third approach. He said he won’t give the names of the people who donated to him, but he will release the individual amounts of each donation.
He said he’s also spending a lot of his own money on the campaign, and the donations that are coming in are all so small that nobody would think any of them are enough money that he could be beholden to any private donor.
“I could see why people could think that, but I think when you see the amounts — I will disclose the individual amounts so you will see that there were no large amounts of money that would’ve been given by any big donors,” he said. “The sums of money that we’re talking about right now are not large sums of money.”