Political Parties & Dues (Part 3)
In looking for case studies around the world to show examples of the need to impose dues on political party members, we were able to find a case study in the United States and one in Canada. We have gathered evidence showing how party leaders and scholars have lambasted the decisions to either lower dues, get rid of them, or not collect them enough. We have also shown how these instances affected these parties, and what happened in one instance when the dues were re-implemented. There was an effort to find another example from another country but we were unsuccessful. There was also no success in giving deeper insight into how dues helped Republicans win in 2014. We explain our methodology below, and discuss the case studies we have found.
To find the case studies we needed, we searched for pre-compiled case studies of political parties failing to set up a dues-paying system or not charging enough. We set our parameters wide enough to catch case studies from around the world and found reports in the International Idea and some academic websites. However, these reports mainly spoke about political financing on a whole, and the report in International Idea used African countries to say how dues would not work in many of those countries. Because of this, we changed strategy.
In this strategy, we decided to search by country in Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, and a few other countries for their most popular political parties, and find the dues on each political party website. With this information, we were hoping to use this to look for instances where there was criticism of the collection of dues from a party leader. In our search, we did encounter one instance of the Conservative Party in the UK raising their dues in 2016, but when we looked to find why they had done so, we found that they reversed their decision. Eventually, we happened upon a website which lists how each political party charges fees in Canada. We found that only Canada had a political party, the Liberal Party, that didn't charge any dues. We then found out that the decision not to charge dues ultimately backfired, and there were criticisms from political experts about that decision. This example was used because it fits all criteria, but because we only found this example, we changed strategy.
Our next strategy was to look through news reports and interviews of political leaders that spoke of party dues. This search brought us through sites like The Financial Times, US News, and others that published stories of Congressional dues and more stories about the dues system in the UK, and after more searching, we happened upon the news section of The Center for Responsive Politics, which is a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C. It published a story about the GOP going on a drive to push for payment of membership dues by Congressional Republicans to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Because this story met the criteria, we decided to include this example.
With the example from Canada and the US, we gathered more quantitative and qualitative data to explain these two scenarios. During this time, we found everything we needed to answer all criteria for Canada, but for the United States, we were missing a definite link between membership dues and their failure or success. Our first method in finding this was to do a straightforward search for how membership dues helped the Republican party. This search brought up articles that we found before, so we switched strategy to look through the FEC to see if we could find a breakdown of the NRCC in 2014. What we found instead was a breakdown from 2013-2014, and they lumped both donations and dues into "individual contributions". With this information, our next step was to see if we could find what percentage dues make up "individual contributions" so that we could calculate the due total, but we only found more political pieces which didn't help. We used what we had to answer as much information as we could. We believe that there may be more instances outside of North America that can be found through more searches with adequate time.
Republicans Crack Down on Dues Delinquency
In 2014, the National Republican Congressional Committee was facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall in fundraising compared to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The NRCC was actually behind the DCCC by $22 million and by the end of May 2014, the DCCC raised $113 million compared to $91 million by the NRCC. It had long been known that Republican caucus members were delinquent on their dues. As a matter of fact, out of 234 GOP members in the House, there were only 120 that paid their dues in full. Near the end of April 2014, NRCC Chairman Greg Walden put Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) in charge of making sure dues are paid. He said:
"The NRCC is a member-driven organization and I’m so proud of how far we’ve come in marshaling the resources needed to make sure Nancy Pelosi is never speaker again. With Tom now leading the effort to encourage and grow member participation on the way to November, I’m confident we’ll be welcoming many new Republican colleagues to Congress."
Even though Chairman Walden's message was positive and hopeful, the fact that John Boehner, who was then Speaker of the House, moved to ensure that dues were paid shows how much they were serious about it that time, as they needed to get the money for November. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a strong Boehner ally and former NRCC chairman, said that the speaker was so concerned about dues to the point that:
"He thinks we are risking our majority for not giving our best effort. I think he thinks the conditions are pretty ripe for us. We think we have the opportunity to pick up seats. But if you go into an election with a major cash disparity, then we run the risk of losing the majority that really shouldn’t be in jeopardy. That’s what he’s said, and I agree with him 100 percent."
The Politico story about the dues problem was published in August of that year and embarrassed certain House members who were large recipients of donations from the NRCC but were delinquent, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania. Goodlatte's campaign eventually transferred $468,450 by the end of July, and Shuster's campaign and leadership PAC ultimately gave $245,000.
Seeing Boehner's push and their subsequent win goes to show how important these dues were to the functioning of the NRCC. Not only that, but those who donate the most have been on a fast-track to sit on Committee seats. In total, in the period January 1, 2013, to September 30, 2014, the NRCC received over $125,000,000 in dues which include dues from Congress and funds from other members. It shows they spent $93.6 million, showing that they had a surplus of cash to spend. Even though Republicans were raising money through PACs, dues are what enables the NRCC to help run campaigns for representatives. The Republicans wound up retaking both Chambers of Congress in November.
Canadian Liberal Party
In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put forward a proposal to his Liberal Party that they should open it up by making the membership cost-free. He made the suggestion based on a survey which found that 96% of respondents endorsed opening up party membership more broadly. Also in 2013, when Trudeau won as Canadian leader, non-members were invited to vote without first getting a membership, which resulted in an additional 300,000 people registering to vote. Before the fee was cut, Liberals were paying $10 a year for membership. This move came at the same time when the Conservative Party raised their dues to $25.
A year later, annual filings by Elections Canada showed that Conservatives outraised Liberals. They received $18.8 million, compared to the Liberals' $13.9 million, a decrease of $3.3 million from the year before. Conservatives earned $3.5 million in dues in 2017 alone, compared to the zero that Liberals earned.
Political writer and broadcaster Tasha Kheiriddin said that the Liberal party's move has serious implications not just for them, but politics on a whole in Canada.
"But don’t kid yourself — free membership isn’t free. It comes at a price, and that price is your personal information. In the age of Big Data, your email address is far more valuable than your $10."
She continues to bring up more ethical problems that surround the free membership to the Liberal party. Even though they have not yet gone back on their position, the data shows that the fees were very important when you look at the way that in 2016 Conservatives raised their dues while Liberals removed theirs, and a year later Conservatives earned a bigger profit than before while Liberals lost money compared to the year before.