Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ezra Levant and the Conservative Politics of Political Party Donations: What They Don't Want You To Know

Conservative Party mouthpiece Ezra Levant is given another opportunity by Sun Media to preach his ideological brand of politics, while pretending to pass it off as “journalism”. Here again, we see Levant presenting only half the case, as he trots out the usual list of suspects in the argument against the per-vote political subsidy: that the subsidy is political party welfare; money could be better spent elsewhere; the Bloc Quebecois wants to break up the country, why are we giving them money to do so? And the Green Party hasn’t elected anyone, why are they being financed?

These are legitimate questions, and all have legitimate answers which you may or may not agree with. The per-vote subsidy to political parties can be a difficult issue, and it’s certainly one which continues to trouble me.

What Levant doesn’t want you to know about, though, is the incredible amount of tax-payer dollars being funnelled to political parties through donations. These amounts of taxpayer dollars far exceed the per-vote subsidy. And the reason Levant doesn’t want you to know about these taxpayer funded subsidies is because overwhelmingly the Party which has benefited the most is the Conservative Party of Canada!

Did you know that if you donate $400 to a political party that you receive a tax receipt back for $300, which you can declare on your income taxes (if you pay income tax; if you don't pay income tax, you're out of luck) for that year? The political party receives the full $400, but you actually only contribute $100. The difference between your donation and the Party’s revenue is made up by, you guessed it, the taxpayers!

In 2008, the Conservative Party of Canada received approximately $34 million in taxpayer-funded private contributions. The Liberals received approximately $14.2 million, while the NDP, Bloc and Greens received approximately $12.3 million, $1.7 million and $2.6 million respectively. Contrast those amounts to the per vote subsidies identified in Levant’s article, and you can see why Conservative Party commentators are most reluctant to bring up the fact that their own Party’s finances receive taxpayer subsidies in the form of direct contributions which are almost double what all of the other parties receive combined!

(If you think that I’m making this stuff up, here is a link to the Pundits Guide’s take on the per-vote subsidy story. Add the Party, Riding, Candidate totals together, versus the per-vote subsidy totals for the real story, the story Levant and the Conservatives don’t want you to know)

And who are those contributors who are receiving these tax breaks? The Conservative Party contributors tend to give at higher levels (above $200) than any other Party. They also tend to pay income tax, unlike many of the supporters of the Green Party and the NDP, who despite their poverty, provide what they can without any economic benefit to themselves. It’s fair to assume, therefore, that Conservative contributors tend to be wealthier than those who contribute to the other parties on average. So here we have a case where a Party supported by the wealthy tends to benefit disproportionately from tax-payers!

But the per-vote subsidy is always the target of Conservative commentators such as Levant. And that’s because the subsidy is straight-forward and easy to understand: every vote a party receives is worth about $2 a year to that Party, all of which comes from the government. This is the price that we pay for having contribution limits set on campaigns and political donations.

It also makes your vote worth something in terms of dollar value, so that when you cast it, it doesn’t just count in an election: it keeps counting until the next election, giving it real financial value. And lends credence to the notion that you really should vote for the Party or candidate you truly believe in, rather than compromising by casting a ballot simply to prevent another candidate being elected.

When Levant calls for the elimination of taxpayer-subsidized contributions to political parties, than you’ll know that he really is concerned about governments funding political parties. Until then, he’s just blowing hot air.

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