Peter MacKay’s fundraising numbers just don’t add up

If Conservatives are lucky, the often-petty squabbling between adherents of the various leadership candidates will end once the ballot deadline arrives in a couple of weeks.

Since nearly the beginning of the race, Conservative Twitter has been replete with jockeying about policies and one-upmanship about who the most conservative conservative in all the land is, sure, but also more mundane fights like which video is better than which, and, more recently, who’s winning the fundraising fight.

At the risk of joining a game of inside baseball, it’s the latter that rubbed me the wrong way in the last week as a rather significant race was reduced to numbers that quite literally don’t add up.

Peter MacKay’s campaign tweeted out a graphic Tuesday purporting to be a chart of “Conservative Party Leadership July 2020 Donations,” showing MacKay to have raised $486,000 in the month while Erin O’Toole and Leslyn Lewis lagged at $184,000 and $142,000, respectively.

It would show a fair bit of momentum were it not for one tiny problem – the numbers seem to have been concocted from thin air.

For starters, despite the chart crediting “Elections Canada” with the figures, no such numbers appear on Elections Canada’s website.  The election agency does have interim reports from the various leadership campaigns showing individual contributions received up to July 24, though when I tallied these up in a nifty spreadsheet not a single sum matched the numbers MacKay’s campaign claimed, even when I tried some creative accounting (for journalistic purposes only, I assure you) specifically to replicate Mackay’s results.

The Elections Canada-logged contributions to Lewis were several thousand dollars more than what MacKay claimed, while O’Toole’s donations were about $40,000 above.  This is using the most conservative interpretation of the data, which I remind only extended until July 24 rather than the entire month.

MacKay’s campaign has access to its own fundraising numbers, but not those of other campaigns I’ve been told by sources involved in the race.

While it’s certainly a flex, it doesn’t appear to be one rooted in any sort of measurable or demonstrable facts, which makes it difficult to pin “momentum” spin on, as the MacKay campaign has tried to do.

Lest you think I’m splitting hairs here, know that the reason the race has become so interesting is because it hasn’t lived up to the runaway victory narrative a lot of people – most of all those on the MacKay campaign – thought would be owned by MacKay from the get-go.

That this race hasn’t been a coronation is a real win for Canadian conservatives, who had 13 candidates to choose from in the 2017 leadership race, but only four this time around.

After outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer announced his resignation, the narrative being pushed from the red Tory wing of the party was that social conservatives shouldn’t expect be a part of the party’s next generation.  MacKay himself called social conservatives a “stinking albatross” around the neck of Canada’s Conservative party, though he later apologized for how the comment was received.

As we saw in the 2017 leadership race when social conservative support for Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost galvanized behind Andrew Scheer, pushing him to victory, social conservatives are not just a part of the Conservative umbrella, but more than likely the largest individual bloc of voters within it.

With two social conservative candidates – Lewis and Sloan – and one candidate, O’Toole, pitching himself as a pro-choice leader who respects the diversity of the conservative base – it means MacKay may very well need a first ballot victory if he is to win.

Though MacKay’s campaign’s fundraising bravado could, on its surface, be telling us to believe he’s got it in the bag after all, the story of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind, wherein bravado and arrogance cost the hare the race, even with a much speedier start than his competitor.

There are ways to game fundraising numbers to your advantage, such as deliberately depositing a batch of cheques in a certain reporting window to boost the bottom line.  Whether that’s what’s happening here or not is irrelevant.  Incidentally, Elections Canada reports show the MacKay campaign took out a line of credit worth nearly $500,000 earlier in the race – an odd move for a campaign supposedly flush with cash.

These sorts of races should be about visions and policies, but when the numbers don’t add up, they shouldn’t be left to stand.

Photo Credit: CBC News

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

More from Andrew Lawton.     @andrewlawton

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