February 22nd, 2017

Alta. political parties ready to burn up phonelines for additional donors


By Schnarr, J.W. on January 10, 2017.

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

jwschnarr@lethbridgeherald.com

Local residents could expect more phone calls from marketing companies looking for political donations as the Alberta parties adjust to new rules about donation limits, says a local political science professor.

But those parties could quietly be looking to collect more than dollars.

Harold Jansen, Professor and Chair for the Department of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge, said the first wave of changes to the campaign finance laws went through right after the NDP were elected, and the second wave passed at the end of 2016.

Among those changes was a drop in individual donations down to $4,000 per year. There are currently no contribution limits in place to third-party advertisers.

A recent call from a marketing company in Ontario was asking for Wildrose Party donations of $200 in order to help fight the carbon levy.

Jansen said this type of request shows how parties are working to expand their donation bases while conceivably making it more difficult to pay for influence.

“If Wildrose did win the next election, and you made that donation, it is unlikely Brian Jean would interrupt a phone call with the Prime Minister in order to talk to you,” he said. “If you’d given $30,000, you might have more of a reason to expect him to take your call. And he might be a little more willing. That is the danger.”

Jansen said marketing companies are enlisted to pinpoint areas where the party thinks it will have success based on voting trends or by purchasing databases featuring information and profiles of particular neighbourhoods to find people who might potentially be willing to make a donation.

While generally all parties do this, some are better at it than others. Typically, the marketing firm keeps the first donation made in exchange for the ability to mine your data to create a list for the party to count on later for further support.

“If they got you to give (an amount of money), the marketing firm might keep that first donation,” Jansen said. “But then your name, address, and phone number go to the party.

“The party now knows you are someone who can be hit up again, and they don’t have to pay a marketing company. They can have their own people doing it next time.”

The shift is part of ongoing changes to how political parties collect and use the data available to them.

“A lot of what politics is about now is Big Data,” Jansen said.

This data collection can also take place when party representatives are going door-to-door soliciting support.

Jansen said some parties make use of phone apps or other data collection tools they can use to collect general information from the moment they step foot on your property – if they see toys in the yard, they might note children in the home. Or they could be keeping track of topics you are interested in when they speak to you.

“If you tell them you are voting for them, you are likely to get a phone call after the election asking you to maybe donate to the party or join it,” he said. “They will keep track of all their interactions with you to build data not just about your voting, but about your liklihood to donate to the party.”

Jansen said the federal conservative party historically was able to out-fundraise their rivals in part due to their ability to make use of this type of data use. At the same time, they often spent much more than other parties on their fundraising efforts. The process can be very intensive and expensive.

Jansen said theses mass market campaigns were also likely the reason the previous federal government would engage in confrontations with the media only to have a mass-mail out follow up the “controversy” with a request for funding.

“So often, you’d see them piggybacking onto events, or even picking fights to generate opportunities for fundraising,” he said.

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