Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun didn’t only out-distance his challengers last fall at the ballot box last fall, he also raised and spent more money than his five opponents combined.
Braun spent nearly $57,000 on last year’s win – a nearly identical figure to his 2014 campaign.
But whereas that amount of spending had been dwarfed in 2014 by the $143,000 spent by then-incumbent Bruce Banman, Braun’s 2018 total was double the amount spent by challenger Moe Gill last fall.
Gill spent just shy of $29,000 while Eric Nyvall spent about $16,000. Braun claimed 56 per cent of votes, with Nyvall and Gill each appearing on around 18 per cent of ballots. Gerda Peachey, who finished fifth, spent a little more than $1,000 while Nadine Snow and Trevor Eros both reported no campaign spending.
The 2018 race was the first run under new provincial rules that barred corporate and union donations and limited personal contributions to $1,200. Candidates themselves could spend up to $2,400 of their own money.
The change in spending from 2014 to 2018 was dramatic, with mayoral campaign expenditures falling by almost half. But it’s unclear which played a bigger part – the candidate mix or the new rules.
In 2014, $85,000 of donations to Banman came in the form of contributions above $5,000. Braun, meanwhile capped individual contributions at $2,500.
With such large donations barred in 2018 and Braun the incumbent, most of the large contributors from four years prior gave far less, if any.
Several people – including Karen Matty, Rajinder Lally, Nicholas Braber – whose companies gave large chunks of money to Banman in 2014, contributed smaller sums as individuals to Braun last year. Lally also donated to Gill’s campaign to unseat Braun. Many others sat out the mayor’s race.
Braun said the limits on a candidate’s own contributions led his campaign to seek out donors for the first time – although he said he did not ask for any money himself. In 2014, had himself donated $20,000 to his campaign, then reimbursed himself following the campaign. He followed a similar path this time, taking a $20,000 loan from his wife. But unlike in 2014, that loan needed to be completely repaid.
Braun said he didn’t like that.
“However,” he added in an email, “if you don’t spend a certain amount of money, you are not likely to win, so you’re on the horns of a dilemma.”
Braun said the province was right to ban corporate and union spending, and that it’s “not healthy” for people to be able to entirely self-fund campaigns. But he said that the rules also inevitably create further practical issues.
That has led him to consider a new approach for 2022, if he runs, he wrote in his Thursday email.
Braun was able to raise about $11,000 more than he spent this year. By law, that money must be sent to the city, which will give it back to Braun in four years if he chooses to run again. (If Braun doesn’t run, the city keeps the cash.)
“I have been thinking about this since the election, I may just use the surplus money from the 2018 election and not take any donations and see what happens in 2022 – can $11,000 in expenditures get me re-elected as Mayor?”
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The top spender among council candidates didn’t get close to winning a seat, and is now fundraising after having taken prohibited contributions.
Harry Manocha outspent all his fellow candidates, with $21,975 in total expenditures. Only Banman spent close to that tally, with no other independent candidate spending more than $10,000 individually. (Abbotsford First attributed just under $10,000 to newcomer Dave Sidhu, and also spent around $15,000 jointly on all five of the slate’s candidates.) But while the former mayor won the second-most council votes in 2018, Manocha was 14th of 18 candidates.
Manocha also declared seven different prohibited contributions from corporations amounting to $4,700. That money must be returned to the donors. Manocha’s wife, Sue, took responsibility for the error and said the contributions are being repaid this week and that fundraising is taking place to cover the shortfall.
Sue Manocha attributed the spending to it being the first time campaigning for a council seat. While most would-be councillors run for office out of their own homes, the Manocha campaign rented office space, which was one of the biggest expenditures.
Money, the figures show, can only take you so far in a council race.
Paul Redekopp, who last election spent nearly $15,000 – much of it his own money – in a failed bid for re-election, spent just a fraction of that sum in 2018. He nevertheless improved his vote total by around 3,000 – although he still fell just short of getting elected.
Abbotsford First spent about $46,000 on their campaign to elect five councillors. While their four incumbents all won re-election, Sidhu was unsuccessful.
The nearly $46,000 raised this year (the campaign also spent money left over from 2014) was down significantly from four years prior, when the slate raised just over $70,000.
Markus Delves, the president of the group, said the slate just didn’t need as much in 2018, particularly given that four candidates were running as incumbents.
“We thought we could run our campaign on the budget we spent, so that’s what we fundraised for,” he said. Delves said the new rules didn’t have much effect on fundraising. Indeed, in 2014, the campaign only registered a handful of donations over $1,200.
Averaged out, each incumbent Abbotsford First candidate spent about $9,000.
Of the incumbent and victorious councillors, only Les Barkman – who spent around $9,700 – raised and spent a similar amount in 2018 than four years prior. Coun. Dave Loewen raised $3,400 and spent about $2,400 of his own money, while Coun. Patricia Ross spent just shy of $3,000.
Financing reports that require the value of reused signs to be listed also reveal how some repeat campaigners can stretch their resources. Ross and Braun each listed more than $2,000 in reused signs from previous elections, while Redekopp and Aird Flavelle reported smaller sums.