OTTAWA - The Conservatives say the secret to their fundraising success lies in small donations, but a new analysis shows they also have the most donors who dig deepest.
A review by The Canadian Press of political contributions found more donors gave the annual $1,100 limit to the Tories than any other party.
Around 12,000 people have given the Conservatives the annual maximum since 2007, adding more than $13 million to the party's coffers.
Some 7,500 Liberal donors and 1,700 NDP donors have maxed out their annual contribution limit. From these big donors, the Grits raised roughly $10 million and the New Democrats more than $2 million.
Figuring out a way to catch up to the Tories will be the focus of the opposition party machines over the next few years now that the Harper government is making good on a campaign promise to phase out the per-vote subsidy that has been the mother's milk of federal politics since 2004.
A party now receives around $2 for every vote it gets. Starting next year, it will be reduced to $1.50 before falling to $1 in 2013 and 50 cents in 2014.
The next time Canadians vote in a federal election, the subsidy will be gone altogether.
The Conservatives placed an upper limit on individual donations of $1,100 in a calendar year back in 2006, lowering it from $5,000.
Some have suggested the limits be raised anew now that the per-vote subsidy is gone.
But a 2010 study by longtime Conservative adviser Tom Flanagan and pollster David Coletto found using any existing alternative financing methods would replace only a small fraction of the money.
"Canadian data show that increasing donor limits would also have only a small positive impact," the study found.
"Cancelling the allowances will definitely constrain parties and may force them to limit campaign activities," the study found.
On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the Conservatives lose the most money by cancelling the subsidy but the impact is far more detrimental to the NDP and the Liberals. In 2010, the subsidy was about equal to the amount of money they raised from contributions
Still, the study also cautioned critics who charged the end of the subsidy will cripple any political party.
"One should remember that they were able to get along with considerably less money prior to 2004," they wrote.
The Canadian Press analysis used data as reported by the parties to Elections Canada. But only individual donations of $200 or more appear in Elections Canada's online database of political contributions. Individual details of lesser donations do not appear in the database, but they are included in the parties' annual filings.
These yearly reports show the sheer number of people who give smaller amounts to the Conservatives.
Between 2007 and 2010, the party raised $32 million from almost 331,000 donors who gave less than $200.
The Liberals raised $8 million from 93,000 donors who gave less than $200, while the NDP has raised $7 million from 74,000 of those smaller donations.
Conservative senator and chief fundraiser Irving Gerstein told the party's policy convention in June that the party with the widest donor base will win the day.
"Our fundraising success is not built on the depth of our donor's pockets. It is built on the breadth of our donor base," he said at the time.
Gerstein added the average Tory donation was $120.
"To raise money successfully, a political party must appeal to a large number of Canadians of ordinary means," he said.
"That is still what some parties do not understand and that is why some parties are lagging behind."