Premier Danielle Smith raised nearly $1.4 million for the UCP leadership campaign
The 10 contenders vying for leadership of the United Conservative Party collectively spent more than $4.4 million on their campaigns, newly released information from Elections Alberta shows.
Of the seven candidates who met the party’s entry requirements and paid a $175,000 fee, six went into debt. Now Treasury Secretary and runner-up, Travis Toews, was the only candidate to post a surplus — more than $33,000.
Toews and race winner Premier Danielle Smith both raised more than $1 million in donations for their bids to headline the party.
“They ran to be provincial premier, and that’s a pretty big prize,” said Lisa Young, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
“And it was a close race, as we saw.”
Finances of the UCP Leadership Campaign 2022
Smith won the October 2022 contest on the sixth ballot with 53.3 percent of the vote. Her campaign ended with a deficit of almost $27,000, about two percent of the funds she raised.
Overall, the 10 candidates in the 2017 competition raised and spent nearly three times as much money as the five leadership candidates. In that race, the UCP’s first leader, Jason Kenney, raised and spent $687,000. All candidates were balanced.
Young said she was not surprised the candidates were spending more this time, as the winner would become prime minister rather than opposition leader, as was the case in 2017.
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt also points to relaxed election-funding laws that give political donors more flexibility to do more for a leadership campaign.
In 2021, lawmakers amended the Election Funding and Disclosure Contribution Act to allow a donor to donate up to $4,000 to candidates running for party nominations in individual rides. Previously, these contributions were considered part of the $4,300 annual cap for political candidates in the province.
The cost of entering the 2022 UCP leadership race was also higher: the fee was $175,000 last year compared to $95,000 in 2017.
Bratt pointed to the unusual trend of the opposition NDP outbidding the ruling UCP while Kenney was Prime Minister and his popularity was beginning to wane. He said time was up and conservative donors were back.
“The forces that ousted Jason Kenney were highly mobilized to bring money into the leadership race,” Bratt said, adding that Smith and now Brian Jean, the Secretary of State for Jobs, Business and Northern Development, are the beneficiaries most of that money.
Aheer says she is on track to close the deficit
Both parties report raising around $7 million each in 2022. The UCP figure does not include funds spent on leadership campaigns.
With citizens now being able to give a combined $8,300 a year to nominee and leadership contenders, political parties and ballot candidates, Young questions whether wealthy donors are better able to influence Alberta politicians buy.
Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, who was eliminated from the UCP leadership race after finishing last in the first ballot, reported a campaign deficit of more than $172,000, which was nearly three times what she had raised in funds .
In an interview Thursday, Aheer said that number was in early December, and she has now collected enough contributions to bring her deficit down to about $60,000. Aheer said some supporters promised donations but didn’t hand over the contributions until much later.
A spokesman for Elections Alberta said in an email that candidates can accept donations and raise funds for three months after filing their financial reports — in this case, until May.
Aheer said she has no plans to run in the 2023 provincial election. She’s still collecting contributions from people she says believe in her campaign and want to make sure it has a good reputation – possibly to run for office at a different level of government.