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Wildrose Party wins the second-quarter fundraising horserace, but can the pace be sustained?

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Elections Alberta Donations Results Charted

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The Wildrose Party has every right to brag about the second-quarter fundraising numbers just published by Elections Alberta. They're a triumph -- if not quite the triumph the party's social media infographic makes them appear to be.

If Wildrose Leader Brian Jean wants to crow about this, he's entitled.

But the important question, which I'm sure the Opposition party's key strategists are worrying about, is this: Are they a sustainable triumph?

The Wildrose infographic made it appear as if political fundraising in Alberta was simply a race between the Wildrose Party and the Alberta NDP, and the Wildrose is winning.

Insofar as it goes, that's basically true...although the NDP is doing pretty well too.

The Wildrose Party raised $467,131.13 in the second quarter ended June 30, compared with $362,824.62 for the governing New Democrats and a shockingly low $27,376.00 for the Progressive Conservatives, who ran the place for almost 44 years until May 2015.

Figures for the year to date, showed a similar pattern: Wildrose, $916,043.84; NDP, $761,668.33; PCs, $132,812.47.

These fundraising results reflect the ban on corporate and union donations brought in by the new NDP government just over a year ago, in June 2015. The PCs had relied on corporate bagmen too long, and don't yet seem to have developed the skills both the NDP and Wildrosers have honed to generate lots of cash from small, individual donors.

The thing is, though, that just as we moved from the second quarter to the third on June 30, Alberta politics in general and the politics of Alberta's right in particular were on the cusp of significant change that could have a dramatic impact on all parties' fundraising.

For the Wildrose, it's said here, those changes are unlikely to be positive, at least in the sense of the fundraising horserace

The biggest change, obviously, is the arrival of federal Conservative and provincial Wildroser Jason Kenney as a participant in the race to lead the Progressive Conservatives.

If Kenney's campaign isn't actually breaking Elections Alberta's fundraising rules by raising money for a leadership campaign that hasn't officially started yet, it's certainly sailing close to the wind.

But the question the Wildrosers must be asking themselves is if Kenney will be going to the same donors they rely on, and at what point are those donors going to either be tapped out or reluctant to donate to a party that can't transfer their money to the new political entity Kenney and his backers hope to create?

Some of the money donated to Kenney's pre-campaign campaign, of course, will come anonymously from corporate sources -- but, again, being tapped out may be a factor here too if, as some observers suspect, corporate donations to the Wildrose Party are being laundered through individual company employees.

Moreover, since anger and fear are both big motivators of individual political donations, and because the NDP's supporters are mostly not angry and not yet frightened about what the future may hold, this suggests there will be an increase in donations to Premier Rachel Notley’s governing party as the next election gets closer.

If this happens at the same time as donations to the Wildrose Party decline for the reasons speculated upon here, positions in the fund-raising horserace could change.

Finally, there is the matter of fundraising by the other parties with seats in the Legislature, which was pretty well ignored in what little coverage of this there has been so far.

Alberta Party donations actually fell marginally in the second quarter from the first. This may be a reflection of the party's hard-to-understand decision not to contest the Calgary-Greenway by-election required to replace PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar, who was killed in a highway traffic accident in the fall. The PCs retained the seat.

The Alberta Party posted second-quarter donations of $16,314.88 and year-to-date donations of $34,269.73. So you could also make a case the difference is so small it’s meaningless.

Alberta Liberal Party donations, however, grew dramatically, $57,561.04 in the second quarter and $86,804.04 for the year to date. In other words, the Liberals raised only $29,243 in the first quarter. If they can continue that trend in future quarters, they will give the NDP something else to worry about.

So it was a little misleading for the Wildrosers to leave the Liberal total out of their chart, but it's really up to the Liberals, the media and the blogosphere to correct that oversight.

One other oddity about these numbers catches the eye, and that is the apparent disparity between recent PC membership activity and the party's low fundraising numbers.

According to a Tweet last Wednesday by PC Party President Katherine O’Neill, the party is doing pretty well all things considering with party memberships. OK, the 287 she said were sold this month, along with another 187 renewed, could have been the result of interest in the party's leadership race, and perhaps support for one candidate by people disinclined to donate to the party directly for that very reason.

But what about the 2,800 memberships she says were sold in February 2016? Surely that membership increase should have had a bigger impact on the number of donations coming to the party. Perhaps it did, of course, in the first quarter, when the PCs raised $105,436. Or maybe some of it flowed directly to PC ridings, which seem to have quite a bit of cash in hand.

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

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