Anyone can still afford to run for office in rural areas

Mel Rothenburger is the TNRD Director for Electoral Area P, including Whitecroft and Heffley Creek. He was the mayor of Kamloops from 1999-2005 and a former newspaper editor.

Running for civic office keeps getting more and more expensive. Campaign financial disclosures for last October’s elections show, for example, that the highest-spending candidate in Kamloops, Mike O’Reilly, mounted a campaign costing more than $23,000.

Several other candidates, including incumbent mayor Ken Christian, were at around $20,000, give or take. That requires a whole lot of fundraising that some candidates — especially those dipping their toes into politics for the first time — just can’t afford.

New rules introduced for that election set a maximum of $1,200 for any single donation, with the exception of candidates themselves, who can put up to $2,400 towards their own campaigns.

Union and corporate donations have been prohibited.

For high profile candidates, it didn’t make a major difference. Those who are very well-known in their communities have the advantage of being able to attract more donations than the newbies.

Prior to the new rules, lesser known candidates could make up the difference with self-funding, to whatever level they could afford. Not anymore.

The $1,200 limit was supposed to level the playing field but actually makes it more difficult for first-timers to compete. Civic election campaigns, like those at other levels of government, are becoming prohibitively expensive in bigger cities, and that’s bad for democracy.

That’s why it’s reassuring to look at the cost of campaigns in smaller communities and rural areas. In the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, elections were held in eight of the 10 electoral areas. In the other two, I was re-elected by acclamation in Electoral P, and Herb Graham won by acclamation in Electoral Area N in the Nicola area, so there was no need for campaign expenses. Incumbent Mayor Al Raine, who was unopposed in Sun Peaks, also spent nothing.

A look at the electoral areas in which votes were necessary shows campaigns, for the most part, were run on a shoestring. The biggest spender was former Merritt mayor David Laird, who successfully ran for election in Electoral Area M, a rural area near Merritt. Laird spent just over $2,300 on his campaign.

Some candidates spend absolutely nothing but that wasn’t the norm. Other than those ones, the lowest campaigns came in at between $200 and $300. Several candidates spent between $1,000 and $2,000. That’s pretty thrifty campaigning.

If you’re wondering how much I spent, it was $39 for a thank-you advertisement and bank charges.

There wasn’t much difference between what candidates for electoral areas in the TNRD, and municipalities, spent. Let’s take a look at Sun Peaks and Chase, the two incorporated communities closest to Area P.

In Sun Peaks, the most expensive campaign was only $1,000, the lowest zero and the next lowest $400. In Chase, the five candidates for mayor all spent more than $1,000 but the highest was just over $1,600.

Six candidates ran for four spots on Chase council, with the most expensive campaign coming in at $1,000 and the lowest at $306. I think one of the reasons it’s still comparatively inexpensive for candidates in small communities and rural areas to run for civic office is that populations are smaller and neighbourhoods are tightly knit. Campaign styles are less about big signs and media advertising than about talking to people on their doorsteps and at public meetings. More people know each other on a first-name basis in smaller communities.

Inevitably, inflation will cause even rural campaigning to become more expensive as time goes on but it’s good to know that, at least for the foreseeable future, just about anyone who wants to run for public office in rural and small communities can do so without having to worry about trying to compete with the wallet