Running for councillor or mayor comes with big price tag

thumb RichardPootmansIf the last city election is any indication, based on averages, you'll need to raise around $360,000 to be a mayor and $92,000 to be an alderman.

Among the most common donors to political campaigns in Calgary are real estate developers, construction companies, law firms and taxi associations.

"All companies are interested in civic politics for zoning purposes and development purposes. It tends to be construction firms and developers who are main donors to civic campaigns," says Duane Bratt, chair of the department of policy studies at Mount Royal University.

 Where the money comes from

Large home developers such as Jayman MasterBuilt donated approximately $22,500 in the 2010 election. Shane Homes donated about $25,250 and Trico Homes donated about $29,600.Final Campaign copyCampaign expenses from Calgary's 2010 election.

Illusration by Alexandra Rabbitte

"The provincial government regulates the energy industry, and they are conspicuous contributors to provincial campaigns," says Richard Pootmans, Ward 6 Alderman. "The federal government regulates the financial services industry and there are conspicuous funders from that sector. Each level of government has that problem. They do it because the sector has an interest in the regulator, which I think is appropriate, they should."

As businesses and corporations across Calgary fund the majority of campaigns, the issue of ethics is raised in terms of influence at city council.

"It just means that we need to be mindful of that when we're making our decisions. I don't know of any colleagues of mine in any of the three levels of government that feel the thousand dollar donations they might receive in any way influence them. And, if it would, they wouldn't accept the donation," Pootmans says.

Less money, more problems

The reason why so much money needs to be raised in municipal elections is because they are running as independents, and there's no large political machine to help fund these campaigns.

"I think it's important for residents to realize that depending on your ward, it can be the size of a small city," says Ward Sutherland, who is currently running for councillor in Ward 1.

"It is significantly more challenging as an independent to run a campaign and get residents to learn and understand the differences between the candidates."

Sutherland estimated that 90 per cent of his expenses went to material for advertising. This includes brochures, signs, websites and social media management.

RichardPootmansRichard Pootmans says he believes that the government should help fund campaign expenses to level the playing field.

Photo by Colin McHattie
"Yes, I think perhaps we are spending too much on campaigns. I think there is a lot to be said for having campaigns paid for by the government. What better use of taxpayers money than democracy?" Pootmans says.

In order to make the campaign game more of a level playing field, Pootmans suggested a type of system in which the candidate must get a certain amount of signatures before receiving government funding. That way, everyone is working with the same amount of funds.

Overspending

Terry Avramenko, who withdrew from the race due to illness, says he agrees that in some cases, too much money is spent on campaigns.

"Spending $100,000 on a job that pays you $70,000 a year... If you are going in spending that kind of money, I think about how you are going to spend taxpayers' money. That was my whole attitude to campaigns in the first place," Avramenko says.

According to Statistics Canada, the average salary in Calgary for an entire family was $89,500 in 2010. Considering the average campaign for Aldermen cost around $80,000, the amount of money spent in 2010 could have supported entire families for a year.

So how hard is it for the average working class citizen to get involved in these pricey campaigns?

"If you have friends and you have the established reputation in the community for doing work, and have been successful at something, then you are a candidate, " Pootmans says. "You can win spending $30,000 if you have a hundred volunteers helping you raise money who will help you door knock and pound in your signs... You need an army of friends to help you."

MRU's Duane Bratt agreed stating, "Money isn't all that it takes to win, but with an absence of money, it is very difficult to win."

Calgarians can vote for mayor, councillors and school board trustees on Oct. 21, 2013.

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