After the last Law Society Bencher election, four years ago, rumours abounded that one candidate had spent over $100,000 in campaign expenses. This time around, there is a lot of talk about opening up the Law Society’s leadership to more diverse candidates. The fact remains that, like any other form of politics, money plays a part in the democratic process.
If you get an email from a bencher candidate, or a post card in the office mail, don’t immediately delete it or throw it in the blue bin. First, think how much it cost to get that email or admail card to you, and to tens of thousands of others. If you had to pay that type of money, would you run?
For privacy reasons, the Law Society is unable to release membership emails to candidates. Further, the Law Society itself is unable to distribute to more than 12,373 out of 47,557 members, due to CASL compliance requirements. The Law Society therefore contracts out email distribution for the Bencher elections at a cost of $618 for each email distribution.
Did you receive a flyer in your office in-tray? Imagine how much it must have cost, to send it out to 47,556 members (assuming the candidate does not mail one out to himself or herself). This, by far, is the most significant campaign expense.
The flyers or post-cards themselves are “cheap.” If one does not go to a retail or small business provider, a web service might provide 47,556 printed cards for about $1,500.
The Law Society does not provide a list of addresses. Rather, it contracts out to a label-making company, who will sell you printed labels for $1,865.
Because no list is provided, you will have to label and stamp the flyers or cards yourself. The procedure does not fit into Canada Post’s small business bulk mailing programs. Assuming you might negotiate a rate of 70 cents per stamp, the mailing will cost $33,289. The Law Society does not directly take part in this most expensive portion of a Bencher campaign, but its role in the process would be curtailed to nil if it did not provide addresses, in label form or otherwise.
Have your family and friends prepare 47,556 mailings if you do not want to pay someone to do it, or do not have a big-firm campaign team.
The Law Society’s publication, the Ontario Reports, sells discounted Bencher Election advertising for an average of $3,417, depending how much you want to advertise. Typesetting costs $100, and is non-negotiable. Prices include Ontario Reports and The Lawyers Weekly.
The Law Times also has Bencher Election rates, and an eight-week campaign will cost $10,360 in print and $3,720 online.
So if a Bencher election ad pops up while you are reading the latest in the legal news, you know now how much it cost to put it there.
Last time, some candidates advertised on LindedIn. If one chooses to do so this time, the per-click rate could be one or two U.S. dollars, but if a lot of members click to find out more about your candidacy, that could add up to thousands, depending on your success. I have not costed that out.
Ordinary or free social media, depending on “followers” and “hashtags” are available at no cost except the time and effort to engage with voters. The love, loyalty and admiration of others is still something one cannot buy.
The total of the above is $58,871. Now go to your managing partner or office manager, and ask whether the law firm would consider spending that type of money to help your election to a position that could take hundreds of hours away from your desk. If you are a sole or small firm practitioner, ask your spouse or partner, or at least check your bank balance. Of course, it is impossible to eliminate money from any democratic process. However, if the Law Society is serious about diversity and encouragement of newcomers, it ought to put an end to releasing member contact information altogether, thereby eliminating its role in the chief economic barrier to participation.