Council candidates turn to crowdfunding

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2013
Karunanidhi Muthu
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
Karunanidhi Muthu

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Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles have become staples of election campaigns, and now fundraising is going online too.

Two Wellington mayoral candidates have launched their causes on crowd-sourcing website Givealittle.

Barrister Karunanidhi Muthu, who is also standing for council in the Eastern ward, has raised $910 through the site, while businessman Jack Yan has raised $100.

And they're not alone. Whangarei candidate Sheryl Mai is also using the site, as are council candidates in Whanganui and Dunedin, and a Queenstown Lakes candidate is using the Pledge Me site.

Crowd-sourcing websites allow people to set up pages for charities or causes, through which others can donate money.

Mr Muthu said he was planning to rely on donations for the majority of his campaign funding, and he was trying to avoid "traditional methods" of campaigning, which were "passe now".

"We live in a digital age where these sort of campaign methods have been proven to succeed, and that's one reason I have chosen to deploy the tool."

An online presence was a way to raise a profile, he said. "I'm not an incumbent mayor who has backing of a party or a machine, and I'm not an incumbent councillor, or a community businessman, or a daughter of an established politician."

He did not have a set budget, but if someone wanted to give him $60,000, that was how much he would spend.

Mr Yan said he had used the site in the 2010 election and had rebooted the page this year. It had not generated much money, but was another tool by which people could donate.

He had held a fundraising event which raised "quite a bit", but he didn't plan to go overboard with spending, because he wanted to show that he could spend less, but spend effectively, he said.

At the last election, in which he came third, he spent about $7000.

In Wellington, mayoral candidates can spend up to $60,000, and anonymous donations cannot be more than $1500.

Wellington electoral officer Charlie Inggs said crowd-sourcing websites did not break funding rules, so long as donations were properly reported.

Massey University associate professor and local government specialist Christine Cheyne said that, with social media playing an increasing role in elections, it was "inevitable" that fundraising would follow suit.

"It's less and less likely that you would campaign without using Facebook and Twitter."

It would be interesting to see how the public reacted to the move, as crowd-sourcing sites were often associated with charity, so using it for political campaigns could be seen as insensitive, she said. "There's a risk ... that people will think this is inappropriate."

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However, there was little difference between using the sites and having a donations section on a campaign website, she said.

At the last election, outgoing mayor Kerry Prendergast spent just over $53,000, of which more than $45,000 came from anonymous donations.

Eventual winner Celia Wade-Brown, who is seeking to retain the chains for another term, spent $58,262. Most of that came from her own pocket, with just $4859 from donations.

Campaign funding for other Wellington mayoral candidates:

Celia Wade-Brown, incumbent

She planned to spend "less than the statutory limit", and her campaign would be funded mainly from savings from her mayoral salary. She accepted donations through her website and commended the use of crowd-sourcing as a "smart approach for a new candidate".

John Morrison

Planned to spend right up to the $60,000 limit, with the majority coming from his own pocket. He would "gratefully" receive donations but was not actively seeking them. "I'm prepared to step up both personally and financially."

Nicola Young

Funding her campaign through donations, of which she had already had a "considerable number", mostly unsolicited. She would not say how much she planned to spend because it would not be known until the end of the campaign. "I have had a significant number of donations and it's certainly enough to get on with my campaign."

Rob Goulden

Planned to spend "as little as possible" because social media platforms meant there were plenty of ways to promote yourself for free. If he suddenly got a $20,000 donation he would probably use it, but otherwise he was going to "stick within budget ... same as the council does".

Other mayoral candidates around the region:

Wayne Guppy

The incumbent Upper Hutt mayor said he spent about $1000 last time and would be aiming at the same level this time. "I certainly have no major funding or funder." The money would be spent on signs and some local advertising.

Brendan Duffy

The incumbent Horowhenua mayor said he provided the majority of his funding. "The number of donations I would get are very conservative – generous, but conservative." He would generally spend between $6000 and $7000, which was a "realistic amount".

Ron Mark

The incumbent Carterton mayor is standing unopposed, so he wouldn't be spending a cent. "I'm planning on spending nothing because I don't need to."

THE RULES

The cap on how much candidates can spend is dictated by the population of the area in which they are standing.

If you are standing for both council and mayor, the biggest of the two is your election cap – not the combined total.

Any donation greater than $1500 cannot be anonymous.

Smaller donations can be considered anonymous only if the candidate genuinely does not know the identity of the donor. It cannot be listed as anonymous if someone is known but does not want their details revealed.

The caps in Wellington:

Mayor: $60,000

All wards except southern: $30,000

Southern ward: $20,000

- The Dominion Post

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