Campaign donations in the City of Toronto

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  • April 02, 2013

Where does the money come from?

Running in a City of Toronto election is expensive — so expensive that only the very well resourced can do it, either because they can access partisan fundraising machines at the provincial and federal levels, or because they can self-finance their campaigns.

But where does this money come from?

Public donations data are available by three-digit postal code of origin for the 2006 and 2010 elections. Pink postal codes had total donations higher than the City of Toronto average ($49,100 in 2010 and $12,400 in 2006) while blue postal codes are below average.

Donations 2006

Donations2010

The pattern is clear: For the most part, donation levels are lower in outer suburban areas and higher in core areas.

Putting these maps side-by-side with the demographics, a general spatial relationship emerges:

  • Less-well-off and high-immigrant areas are considerably less likely to contribute to mayoral candidates.
  • Most donations come from only a handful of typically wealthy postal codes.

This leads to a basic question: Does this uneven pattern of campaign donations affect which candidates are considered viable? Are candidates that are less appealing to better-off and established residents at a disadvantage?

The curious case of the external donations

As I was looking at this I was surprised to find that in the 2010 election, almost one-third of contributions to mayoral candidates — about $2 million — came from outside of the City of Toronto, from as far away as Ottawa and Windsor. Major donations rolled in from Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Aurora, and Caledon.

Donations 2010 zoom

This opens up some interesting questions:

  • Should people who live outside of Toronto be able to donate to Toronto candidates?
  • Does this favour and reinforce the frontrunner status of particular kinds of candidates over others?
  • Would restricting donations to municipal campaigns to residents of the same municipality alter campaign dynamics by creating incentives for candidates to seek small donations from a broader range of residents?

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