Parties drop hints on fundraising numbers in pleas to supporters

Kady O'Malley breaks down the spin emanating from the post-2013 donation battle emails to supporters.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hasn't slowed his email blasts about the party's drive for donations. (Adrain Wylde/Canadian Press)

Regardless of their chosen party, it's a good bet that more than a few politically active Canadians were hoping the new year might usher in a brief reprieve from the frantic fundraising pitches that filled their email in-boxes during the final days of 2013.

No such luck.

There's no rest, it seems, for the partisan, at least as far as Canada's perennially cash-hungry political parties are concerned.

Last Friday, the Liberals sent out a message formatted to look like an informal email discussion between party strategists forwarded to the membership by Justin Trudeau himself, in which fundraising director Christina Topp suggests that the party "may have just had our best day, our best month and our best quarter of the year, and possibly ever."

During the final quarter of 2013, she advised her colleagues, the party raked in "over $4.3 million" from 43,000 supporters, including $2.9 million from what she describes as "an astounding 36,849 donors" in December, with a one-day high of $614,145 on December 31.

Replying to Topp's email, campaign co-chair Katie Telford says that, for her, it's the donor number that "stands out."

"The media will likely focus on the $4.3-million," she notes, "but consider this: In all of 2011, which was an election year, 49,650 donors entrusted us with their dollars. Now, in just the last three months of 2013, we had nearly that many Canadians — over 43,000 — generously chip in to our movement."

The note concluded with an invitation from Trudeau to recipients to "add your friends to this email chain, share the news and join our movement."

Two days later, the Conservatives issued an email blast of their own, in which party president John Walsh thanked supporters for ensuring that they not only met, but "greatly exceeded" the $2 million goal of the Seize The Moment campaign launched in mid-December.

He went on to tout the most recent reporting cycle as "the best non-election Q4 ever," with a total haul that he puts at "more than $5.2 million."

He also proclaims the "more than $18 million" raised in 2013 as the party's "best non-election year ever" despite "the constant attacks from Justin Trudeau and his allies in the Ottawa Press Gallery," and notes that online donors kicked in more than $600,000 "in December alone," which makes it the "best month for online fundraising ever."

"With your help, 2014 will be another great year for our party," he predicts. "Our Leader, Stephen Harper, will be ready for the 2015 Election. Now we need your help to make sure our party is also ready."

Days earlier, the New Democrats had put out a post-Dec. 31 update that focused exclusively on their online fundraising efforts.

"On December 31st at 7:24 p.m. Eastern Time, you and thousands of New Democrats reached a huge online milestone – our $750,000 year-end target," announced fundraising director Heather Wilson.

According to Wilson, by midnight, the party had raised $858,810.76, with "5,817 grassroots online supporters" kicking in some cash in the last two weeks of the year.

"When all the numbers were in, we capped off our biggest online fundraising year yet," she noted.

"Together, we're one big step closer to winning next year’s election. Let’s take some time to celebrate — and then get back to work."

As for the Green Party, a Jan. 16 thank you email to supporters stuck with year-end totals — $2,216,044 from 14,695 donors — with no specific numbers from the latest round. 

So, what does it all mean? 

Leaving aside the numbers (which should really be considered preliminary until the official reports are available for cross-checking) what can we glean from these celebratory bulletins to the respective party faithful?

First, it's worth noting that Walsh's summary of Conservative results is curiously coy on the number of donors, although he ends the email by setting an ambitious new one-week goal of adding the names of 20,000 new "supporters" to the party database via an online form that he encourages recipients to "share with as many people as possible."

He also declines to share the December total, although he does mention the $600,000 raised online during that period.

In contrast, the Liberals are keen to highlight the 43,000 contributors they have ostensibly attracted in the last quarter alone. While the initial email didn't include a line-item breakdown for online versus offline donations, an "exclusive" tweet from the official party account on Monday afternoon put the online total for December at $1.6 million. 

That particular metric ended up boomeranging on the New Democrats, when it led some media outlets to report the $858,000 figure as the total raised during the last quarter, which made it look like the party was far behind its rivals.

Liberals, Conservatives go head-to-head

Looking beyond the numbers, both the Conservative and the Liberals included pointed references to each other in their missives, but neither mentioned the New Democrats.

Walsh cited Trudeau's "constant attacks" as a satisfactorily vanquished fundraising challenge, while the Liberal email hinted that "there's a good chance [they] outraised the Conservatives in December on dollars alone."

The New Democrat email, meanwhile, points out the party reached its total "without handouts from corporate insiders, or friends in the Senate to pad their pockets."

Finally, both the Conservatives and Liberals provided links to sign up for email updates with no direct appeal for donations, or to join the party, while the New Democrats reminded recipients that there was still work to be done with no request that they take specific action.