About Political Fundraisers – Part. 1
Over the past few months, more and more of our clients have begun to ask us for advice about political fundraising. In some cases, it´s because they´ve been approached and asked to make contributions to political parties or candidates. With others, it´s because they´re interested in exploring whether it´s possible to use political contributions to increase their organization´s influence or to help candidates who understand their issues to succeed.
Here are some of the questions we´ve been asked most often – along with the answers we´ve been giving. We hope you find them worth reading – and worth thinking about. And once you´ve read them, contact us if you like, so we can offer specific suggestions on how your organization can be strategically involved in political fundraising.
Question 1: “Why should we be thinking about political fundraising now? We´ve never worried about it in the past.”
Answer: “Two reasons. First – things have changed and today it´s much more likely you and your organization (or the members of your management or Board of Directors) will be asked for political donations. What will you do then?”
“The second reason is that – managed properly – participation in political fundraising can be a valuable part of your overall government relations plan.”
Election campaigns are expensive, so political parties and individual Members have always had to raise funds to meet their costs. But now, changes in federal, provincial and municipal election laws limit the amounts that big companies or unions can contribute. As a result, individuals, organizations and businesses across the community – including you and your organization – are much more likely to be contacted by people soliciting donations to political parties for candidates by inviting you to attend various fundraising events.
The choices you make about participating in political fundraising can have important implications for your overall government relations strategy and your relationships with politicians. So – at a bare minimum – you should be thinking now about how you´ll respond.
Question 2: “If someone does ask for a political contribution, what would Leonard Domino & Associates advise?”
Answer: “If you´re being asked to contribute to a provincial political party, we´d usually suggest you say ‘No thanks´. But we´d recommend that you think long and hard about any opportunity to contribute to individual candidates.”
There are two reasons for that advice.
We advise you to say “No Thanks” to provincial party organizations because – although there are limits on contributions from big unions and companies to political parties now – they can still raise significant amounts and they also get taxpayer-financed support. The other reason we advise you to support individual members or candidates instead is that it is more difficult for you to have a relationship with a political party.
Also Individual candidates find it harder to raise funds: your relatively small contributions can make a bigger difference for them. And combined with the other aspects of your overall government relations strategy, judicious financial support for candidates can help you build the network of relationships you´ll need to achieve your overall government relations goals.
Provincial Guidelines regarding donations
Question 3: “Are you suggesting that our political contributions can buy influence?”
Answer: “No. That´s not the way it works at all.”
We can´t stress this strongly enough: do not ever make political contributions on the assumption that it will buy you influence or special favours. No matter what the cynics may tell you, that really is not the way it works, so if that´s what you´re thinking – forget it!
But political contributions can help build good working relationships with both government and opposition politicians. The politicians and their staff will see this kind of support as a mark of respect – especially if you make it clear that you don´t expect any special treatment in return for your contributions.
Question 4: “If we´re not ‘buying´ special favours, why should we get involved in political fundraising?”
Answer: “You should make political contributions because you believe in the people you´re supporting, and their ideas – and because it really can help you build relationships.”
It´s pretty simple: do you believe this person makes a positive contribution to public life? Would you like them to be able to continue? Do you respect them and the things they stand for?
If the answers to those questions are “Yes”, then we´d advise you to give serious thought to supporting them financially. Then you have to decide if supporting them makes sense for your organization, too.
And that´s where we suggest looking at the way your fundraising activities will affect the relationships you need to meet your government relations goals.