War of the Sock Puppets

Severely Normal Albertans watching baseball’s fall classic on TV were treated to the beginning of the battle of the sock puppets. An annoyingly repetitious advertisement appeared; attacking Rachel Notley, the provincial debt, carbon taxes and Justin Trudeau.

It is sponsored by a Political Action Committee (PAC) allied with Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP).  Using the approach pioneered in the US, Alberta political party supporters are setting up organizations to launch attacks on the personalities of the other party’s leader.

Despite the NDP’s hope to “take big money out of politics”.  They and the UCP have friends building war chests to fund pre-campaign media attacks on each other.

Election Alberta is the referee that is supposed to manage the battle ground.  (Think UN blue helmets in this uncivil war).

Political parties must operate within a set of ground rules:

  • Individual donations to parties are limited to $4,000 annually
  • Corporate and union donations to parties are banned
  • Most “in kind” donations like office space have to be valued at market rates
  • Political Parties cannot spend more than $2.0 million during an election period
  • Individual constituency campaigns during elections are limited to $50,000.

This year the UCP have been most successful raising $2.7 million. The NDP have raised $1.9 million. The Alberta Party has raised $236,000 and the Liberal about $86,000.

 

But PACs have fewer restrictions.  These organizations must register with Elections Alberta and disclose donations. They are prohibited from spending more than $150,000 once an election has been announced.

They have much more latitude to advertise before an election is announced.  Hence the ads while you were heading to the fridge between innings. 

Sadly this negative advertising works, the ads stoke fear and anger among the political base they appeal to and… they raise money.  They also create sound bites that stick with voters that don’t follow politics very closely.

So… who are these rascals who are trying to influence your vote?  Elections Alberta has a list:

  • The Alberta Federation of Labor – Raised and spent about $550K last year, they have raised about $250K this year. Biggest contributors are the United Nurses and the UFCW (representing retail, food, hotel, warehousing and manufacturing workers.
  • Project Alberta – Contributions from the Red Deer UFCW and United Steel workers $385K in 2018,
  • Public Interest Alberta – funded by various public sector unions and faculty Associations $102K,
  • Merit Contractors – No activity in 2018 but $285K received and spent in 2018
  • Progress Alberta – donation of 2018 this year $8K,
  • Shaping Alberta’s Future – funded by a variety of law firms, professional corporations and car dealerships. These are the folks behind the recent attack ads referenced above.  $375K,
  • There are eleven other PACs registered but they’re inactive.

The role of “dark’ money in election financing can have a significant impact on election outcomes. These PAC funds, one step removed from the political parties, often use advertising to launch personal attacks.

But they are a fact of life and Severely Normal Albertans ought to pick up ear plugs and distortion free eyeglasses for the coming onslaught for negative media that will be coming to a television near you.