It's my party and I'll donate if I want to
City Hall Watcher #251: As Matt takes a birthday break, guest contributor Damien Moule explores the geographical and partisan nature of campaign donations to councillors
Hey there! I’m dutybound to report that I will turn 40 years old this Wednesday, November 1. Somehow it’s been four decades since 1983. Halloween is spooky, but nothing is as scary as that.
To provide time to steel myself for passing this milestone, I have — mostly — taken this issue off, turning things over to special guest Damien Moule, who has done some fascinating analysis of Council campaign donations while also setting the all-time record for footnotes in a single issue of this newsletter.
Get your guesses in now: which councillors saw the most donations from the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP? Who marshalled the most support from Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York and Good Ol’ Old Toronto & East York? The answers may surprise you!
Also: Executive Committee meets, with an important report on housing, and a critical decision that’ll need to be made about waterfront transit.
— Matt Elliott
Council Campaign Contributions, Charted
By Damien Moule
We recently passed the first anniversary of the 2022 Toronto municipal election. That’s right, it’s only been a year. Some things have happened since then that might make it feel like ancient history. But the last day for candidates to file financial statements for the 2022 Toronto municipal election was today.1 So we actually only just got the complete picture of the campaign financing for the council elections.
Earlier this year Matt took a look at the financial statements that had been filed at that time and identified prominent individual donors, and did a deep dive into the contributions to the Brad Bradford and Josh Matlow campaigns. Today, I wanted to take a bird’s eye view of the campaign donations2 to all 25 winning council candidates. I’ll be looking at 3 different charts summarizing the contributions by donation size, donor residence, and donations from people who gave to provincial political parties.
First a quick recap of some of the rules around Toronto council election finance. Only individuals who are residents of Ontario (and non-resident candidate spouses) can make contributions to a council candidate. The names and addresses must be recorded for anyone who contributes more than $100 total to a campaign. An individual can contribute a maximum of $1,200 to a given campaign. There is a specific limit, ranging from $17,339.40 to $25,000 based on the number of electors in the ward, for how much candidates and their spouses can contribute to their own campaigns.
There is also a ward-specific spending limit, between $57,442.45 and $92,617.15, for campaign-related expenses, mostly staff, offices, signs, and flyers. And there is a spending limit on campaign parties (because Toronto). However, some activities are exempted from the spending limits, such as fundraising and accounting. There is no limit on the amount of money the campaign can raise, but the spending limits effectively cap the amount of money it is useful to raise. Any surplus money from the campaign is first used to refund self-financing from candidates, and any leftover after that is given to the City of Toronto.
I also want to give a sense of the scale we’re talking about here. There were 2,926 unique donors giving over $100 to the winning candidates. Even making some generous assumptions about the number of people who gave less than $100, we’re talking about something like 0.6-0.7% of the people who cast a ballot contributing to a winning campaign. I think it’s fair to say this is a niche group of enthusiasts we’re looking at here. And I suspect a disproportionate number of those people read this newsletter so I won’t make any disparaging comments about their character.3
The total money raised by the 25 winning candidates was just over $2 million, which is less than the price of a house in many Toronto neighbourhoods.
Sizing up donations
Alright, enough table setting, onto the charts. Our first chart breaks down contributions by size. I retrieved contribution data from the City of Toronto’s Elections Financial Disclosures database. I labelled contributions under $100 to each candidate as “small donations''. I summed the contributions over $100 from each individual to each campaign, and then split them into three categories: donors giving $100-$500 to a campaign were labelled “medium donations”, donors giving $501-$1,199 were labelled “large donations”, and donations of $1,200 were labelled “max donations”. I also included self-funding from the candidates themselves.
Self-financing is quite common. 17 of the 25 candidates contributed more than $1,000 to their own campaigns. Only 3 candidates (James Pasternak, Nick Mantas, and Vicent Crisanti) spent none of their own money on their campaigns. Paula Fletcher, Jon Burnside, Dianne Saxe, and Jamaal Myers all spent more than $17,000 on their campaigns, which was close to the self-funding limit for their wards. However, Fletcher and Burnside both ran large campaign surpluses and received all their money back. They essentially ended up loaning their campaigns money.
Small donors are sometimes celebrated as more authentic or democratic than larger — and especially max — donations, but their impact on the candidates’ finances is fairly limited. Small donations accounted for 6% of the money raised by the winning candidates. The candidate who raised the highest percentage of their money from small donations, Alejandra Bravo, still only raised 18.5% of her money from small donations.
On the other end of the spectrum, max donations accounted for 35% of the money raised by winning candidates. There is however much more variation in max donations between the campaigns. At the top end, Nick Mantas raised a staggering 83% of his money from max donations. James Pasternak, Vicent Crisanti, Anthony Perruzza, Mike Colle, and Michael Thompson also raised more than half their money from max donations.
There is a cliche that more left-wing candidates run more grassroots and working-class campaigns that raise more money from small donors while conservatives raise money from the large donations of the business class. There’s some truth to this in Toronto. Alejandra Bravo, Paula Fletcher, Jamaal Myers, and Amber Morley were in the top 5 candidates by percentage raised from small donors and the bottom 5 by percentage raised from max donations4, and all sit comfortably on Council’s left. But it’s more of a trend than a hard and fast rule. Lily Cheng and Jennifer McKelvie both raised much less from max contributions (4th and 6th lowest by percentage, respectively) and much more from small donations than the average winning candidate. And the candidate who raised the 4th highest percentage from small donations was… Jaye Robinson, a conservative who represents the ward with the highest average income in the city.
Before moving on to the next chart, I need to address the obvious outlier in our first chart: Stephen Holyday. As Matt first noted back in March, Holyday raised very little money compared to his fellow winning candidates. He raised $15,798.10, more than $31,000 below the next closest winning candidate. Of that, $9,589.09 in money and goods were donated by Holyday himself, with another $3,600 coming from family members. This leaves just $2,600 raised from 3 donors not related to Holyday. And yet that $2,600 was still somehow more than the other 5 candidates in the ward raised combined.
Location, location, location
Next up we can look at where the donations came from. For all contributions above $100, the home address of the donor is submitted by the campaign, and the City of Toronto’s database records the postal code. Now the City’s postal codes don’t line up with Council ward boundaries, but they do line up with the boundaries for the old cities of Etobicoke and Scarborough. So I decided to chart how much money each campaign raised from the former cities, as well as from outside of Toronto.
Unfortunately, the postal codes in the old cities of Toronto, York, East York, and North York don’t match the old boundaries, but I was able to roughly sketch them out5. I did combine old Toronto and East York, as well as York and North York. I also took out candidate self-funding because I didn’t think it added useful information.
The first thing that jumped out to me was that very little campaign money comes from Scarborough. Not a single one of the winning candidates from Scarborough raised the majority of their campaign money from the former municipality.
The next thing I noticed was the amount of money coming from outside of Toronto. Donations from outside the city are sometimes controversial despite being allowed under the rules for municipal elections. Four candidates were tightly packed at the top of the list, with around $28,000 each raised from addresses outside the city. They were Vincent Crisanti, Michael Thompson, Frances Nunziata, and Nick Mantas. On the other end of that list, Jaye Robinson and Stephen Holyday raised only a few hundred dollars from addresses outside of Toronto.
What political parties do in the shadows
Another fun6 thing we can do with the Toronto election contributions database is compare the list of 2022 Toronto council donors to the database of provincial political contributions in 2022, and plot donations to each candidate from donors of each party. My mental model of political donors is that they treat politics as a hobby or as a sport to cheer for, so I expected a fairly large overlap between provincial and municipal donors.
Before we get to the chart, we have to take a detour to talk about methodology. The provincial database does not list postal codes, so all we have to use for matching donors are names. This raises a few problems. The first is nicknames and short forms. You want to make sure that, for example, Gord and Gordon get treated as the same first name. I had to use a fuzzy match technique and then double-check that the last names were the same (so that for example Jess Bell and Jessica Bell get treated as a match, but Jessica Bell and Jessica Campbell don’t get treated as a match).
The next problem is common names. Someone with a common name could donate to a council candidate and another person with the same name could donate to a provincial political party, and it would be spuriously treated as a match. Without another check like a postal code, there isn’t a great way to check for this. For donations to provincial candidates or riding associations, you can check the riding against the ward, but for donations to political parties, you don’t even have that. Also, the same person can choose to donate to a provincial candidate in a particular riding, and a council candidate in a completely different ward. I did a visual check of the matches to see how many common names I could spot. It was a fairly small fraction, but I do need to caution you not to treat these numbers as exact. When you see small numbers of contributions that don’t seem to make sense, it’s possibly from someone with a common name.
The last problem with matching is people who go by different names in either database. For example, people who go by their middle name, or go by an anglicized name in one database but use their first name in the other. Without an additional piece of data like an address or birthday to check against, there is not much I can do about this. So I think the amount of money coming from donors to provincial parties is a small underestimate.
Finally, I had to make a decision about how to treat people who donated to multiple parties, which was the case for around 5% of the matched provincial donors. The most common situation I observed was people who donated to a political party but then also donated to a specific candidate from another party. I had to choose whether to divide the money they donated to a council candidate evenly among the parties, or whether to double count the contribution. I chose to double count since I thought it made more sense to estimate the total amount donated from donors of each party. With all that out of the way, here is the chart:
Some of these results are pretty expected. Alejandra Bravo, Ausma Malik, Gord Perks, and Paula Fletcher all raised a lot of money from NDP donors. Dianne Saxe was the only candidate to get significant contributions from Green Party donors. Many of the candidates endorsed by John Tory (Burnside, Nunziata, Colle, Pasternak) received sizable contributions from PC donors. That all checks out.
I was surprised that the other three winning candidates endorsed by Progress Toronto (Chris Moise, Amber Morley, Jamaal Myers) didn’t receive the same level of NDP donor support as Malik and Bravo. Granted Moise and Morley are #5 and 6 on my list of contributions from NDP donors, so it’s not like they were ignored, but the fractions of their money raised from NDP donors is notably lower. And Myers raised the bulk of his money from people who didn’t give to a provincial party7.
I was also surprised that close Tory ally Jennifer McKelvie, and two prominent Tory-backed candidates, Brad Bradford and Gary Crawford, didn’t receive more money from PC donors. The PC donors made a few other strange moves, like giving a healthy amount to Chris Moise, who in addition to being an NDP donor himself was endorsed by Progress Toronto and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. They also ignored Stephen Holyday, who is I think fairly clearly the most conservative candidate elected (and the son of a former PC MPP).
The last thing that jumped out to me in this chart was how little money was given by Liberal Party donors. Even though 2022 wasn’t their best year there were roughly as many donors to the Liberals and the NDP, but there are basically no candidates who received significant Liberal donor support. The candidate who raised the most from Liberal donors was Brad Bradford, but it wasn’t a majority of partisan donations to his campaign. Other candidates who you might think would draw Liberal support, like former Liberal MPP Mike Colle and former Liberal candidate Josh Matlow, didn’t raise much money from Liberal donors.
So there you have it. Three charts that summarize the donations to the winners of the 2022 council election. Perhaps in the future I can try and be more relevant and look at an election that’s only a few months old: the 2023 mayoral by-election. In fact, I probably should have just done that, but city staff transcribed the contributions for the last major candidate, Mark Saunders8, while Matt and I were finalizing this newsletter. You win some, you lose some.
That’s not all, folks
As a bonus9 for those who read this far, here are the equivalent charts for some candidates who didn’t win. I chose a cutoff of those who raised $40,000 (Okay, I rounded Igor Samardzic up from $39,427.23). I could pretend that I chose this cutoff for a good reason, like it’s around the amount of money raised by successful council candidates. But really I chose it because I wanted the number of candidates to fit neatly on the chart, and there was a relatively steep drop after Samardzic to the campaign with the next highest amount of donations. This article is already long so I’m going to leave analysis as an exercise for the reader.
Damien Moule is an engineer, municipal policy nerd, Ward 10 resident, father, and occasional volunteer with More Neighbours Toronto. You can find him on Twitter (or X or something): @damienmoule
In other news
📰 I took a week off from my Star column, but in case you missed it, last week I did some good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, heading over to Jarvis & Lake Shore to see how City Hall’s traffic agent program is working for pedestrians. It wasn’t great! But in more positive news, at last week’s meeting of the Infrastructure & Environment Committee, Councillor Dianne Saxe passed a motion on the Congestion Management Plan item “to ensure that Traffic Agents are trained and instructed, throughout the course of their duties on giving priority emphasis to vulnerable road users.”
The current mystery at City Hall: what exactly happened at a special board meeting of the TTC that was called on Friday?
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