New civic election expense rules penalize newcomers

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
February 11, 2019 - 5:02am Updated: February 11, 2019 - 11:26am
Image Credit: Mel Rothenburger

CAMPAIGN FINANCIAL DISCLOSURES released by Elections BC for last fall’s civic election seem to reveal a long-held suspicion — big spending wins elections.

It isn’t as simple as that, though. Yes, the winners in the election for Kamloops City council were certainly among the biggest spenders.

Mike O’Reilly topped everybody with more than $23,000. With the number of votes he got, it came to a per-vote cost of about $2.45. Pretty pricey.

Arjun Singh, Kathy Sinclair and Mayor Ken Christian spent close to O’Reilly. The eight winning council candidates were all in the top 10 spenders.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s that thing about name recognition. One would think those with higher public profiles would automatically spend less, but in practice, higher name recognition makes it easier to attract more donations.

Here’s the other wrinkle at play. New campaign financing rules came into effect for the first time with that election. One of them is a limit of $1,200 per person on campaign donations, with the exception being the candidate, who can chip in up to $2,400.

Corporate and union donations — once a staple of civic election campaigns, became prohibited.

The $2,400 maximum on self-financing is severely limiting to new faces just getting into politics. Under the old rules, a candidate could self-finance most or all of his or her campaign. Now that the days of low-cost civic campaigns are over, it’s tough for new candidates to raise thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from supporters. So, they’re pretty much stuck within that new, lower limit, while incumbents and other high-profile candidates carry on as usual.

Those new rules aimed at leveling the playing field may be doing just the opposite.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at


Editor's Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author, and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.