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Jason Kenney’s PC leadership victory: Big money guys finish first

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Jason Kenney

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.

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.

According to his Elections Alberta filing, 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 his “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 Kenney claimed to be couch surfing at the time to save money. Hmmmmm …

Once the contest had officially begun, broken promises notwithstanding, 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 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 Kenney on the provincial scene, is now.

In fact, I’m willing to bet, there was really more than $1.4 million available to 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 Stelmach, as we were, he donated $382.50 to Starke's quixotic effort.

As it turned out, presumably, outspending Starke nine to one was deemed, accurately enough, to be sufficient by 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 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, 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 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 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.

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.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Flickr/daveberta

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