Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1017 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 11:47:42 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Who will be at the second mayoral debate? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7247:who-will-be-at-the-second-mayoral-debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7247:who-will-be-at-the-second-mayoral-debate nyc votes errol and audience

Debate #1 (photo: @NYCVotes)


By most accounts, the first general election mayoral debate was at best minimally helpful in providing voters a substantive exchange of ideas among the three candidates on stage, each competing to lead the city of 8.5 million people and an $85 billion budget for the next four years.

Outbursts and interruptions by audience members and candidate Bo Dietl made for a raucous and rowdy atmosphere where the policy positions of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat seeking reelection, and Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee, were often drowned out, overshadowed, or truncated.

“It was a bit of a circus,” said debate panelist and WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer, “the crowd was rowdy, the mayor’s opponents aggressive.”

Still, there was some intelligence gleaned from the debate, both in terms of the personalities of the candidates and their policy positions. A good deal of substance was present if you were able to listen closely enough or catch the debate a second time, perhaps desensitized to the lack of decorum shown by Dietl and the crowd, where most of those interfering with the discussion on stage were anti-de Blasio -- either Dietl or Malliotakis supporters or there simply to jeer the mayor.

The three candidates -- seven names will be on the November mayoral ballot, but just these three qualified for the first of two official, televised debates -- did have opportunities to discuss issues like affordable housing, criminal justice, homelessness, the city budget, mass transit funding, street congestion, school segregation, and more.

In the aftermath of a debate that left many, including, apparently, moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis, exasperated and frustrated, one important question is who will be on stage for the second official debate, scheduled for Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m., televised on CBS.

In order to qualify for that contest, known by campaign finance law as the “leading contenders” debate, one of two sets of criteria will be at play. One is simply a fundraising and spending threshold of $1 million each. The other has a much lower financial threshold ($174,225) and includes candidates attaining at least 15% in a public opinion poll that includes all of the candidates on the ballot (there are a few other minor details to it, but those are the broad strokes).

In all likelihood, the first criteria will be used to determine eligibility, which will almost-certainly again limit the field to de Blasio, Malliotakis, and Dietl. However, because Dietl is not a participant in the Campaign Finance Board public matching program, rules state that the lead sponsor, in this case CBS, has discretion whether to invite him or not. Dietl’s inclusion, or lack thereof, would have significant impact on the debate, if not the outcome of the vote on November 7.

Neither Dietl nor Malliotakis has hit the $1 million raise and spend thresholds yet, though both are fairly close, and they have until October 27 to do so. Dietl told Gotham Gazette it will not be a problem, in part because he has deep personal resources to help his campaign if needed. Reached for comment about whether CBS plans to invite Dietl, a spokesperson said the station would not weigh in on a hypothetical.

"I think they're going to invite me,” Dietl told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday. “I don't think there's too much of a debate without me. There's no entertainment value, I bring out the real facts. CBS knows that, they'll invite me."

Asked if he felt OK with how he had handled himself at the first debate -- during which he spoke almost exclusively in a yell, grunted into his microphone repeatedly, interrupted, and had his mic cut off by Louis -- Dietl indicated no regrets.

“My passion showed,” he said on Wednesday. “I feel great. I thought last night went well. A little out of control…You had to get in to say what you want to say.”

"It’s important for people to see human beings,” Dietl said, “rather than robot politicians. I got a lot of my points out. A lot of people saw Bo could be mayor of New York City against a couple of politicians."

Dietl’s presence at the first debate -- and his potential presence at the second -- hurts Malliotakis’ chances of consolidating the anti-de Blasio vote and narrowing the 40-plus-point gap in the polls. While Dietl argues he has the better chance of the two to defeat de Blasio, Malliotakis appears a more cogent candidate and has her own lead on Dietl in polling.

Asked about the debate and Dietl’s presence at a Wednesday press conference in the Bronx, Malliotakis said, “Certainly I would prefer a one-on-one debate with the mayor. I believe that I am the clear alternative to Bill de Blasio being offered in November. I would love the opportunity to debate him one-on-one, and we’ll see, maybe November 1 -- I intend to make the threshold to qualify for the CBS debate, and we’ll see what happens there.”

She said one-on-one with de Blasio would let her better make her case and allow the candidates to drill down on the issues more. “I’m very pleased with the way the debate went,” she added, saying she thought she made many of her key points and held the mayor accountable.

Along with Dietl’s presence, or that of other mayoral candidates who are suing to get on stage, the other key question about the second debate is the live audience. The crowd at Symphony Space acted more like it was an NFL game than a political debate, leading to at least one ejection and several admonishments from Louis, the moderator.

The venue for the second debate is the smaller CUNY Graduate Center auditorium, and it is not yet clear how CBS and its co-sponsors will handle ticket dissemination. They may filter tickets through sponsor organizations, as well as CUNY faculty and students, and not through the candidate campaigns.

“[W]e are reviewing what happened last night and will do what we can to keep the focus of the Nov. 1 debate on the candidates,” the CBS New York spokesperson, Rachel Ferguson, told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday.

When asked for comment on the debate, the Campaign Finance Board gave credit to Louis and his fellow questioners and pointed to crowd behavior.

“A lot of interested voters showed up at last night’s debate determined to make their voices heard,” said Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “While it is regrettable that the crowd reduced the amount of time available for questions, the debate moderator and panelists did their very best to ensure the candidates addressed a wide range of issues that directly affect New Yorkers. The [Campaign Finance] Act requires these debates so that all voters can hear directly from the candidates about the issues that matter to them. As a result, the New Yorkers who tuned in to last night’s debate are better equipped to cast an informed ballot for the city they want on November 7th.”

Asked about the debate at an unrelated Thursday press conference, de Blasio expressed his own dismay, but did not offer any specific prescriptions. “It was not what the people of New York City deserved,” de Blasio said. “It was a lost opportunity.”

While the mayor’s supporters often cheered his answers and chanted “four more years” to drown out boos or jeers from others in the crowd, they appeared to take the approach more reactively, responding to the tone set early on by de Blasio detractors who interrupted the mayor’s opening statement and repeatedly heckled during his answers to questions.

Asked about whether Dietl should be invited to the second debate, a spokesperson for the mayor’s campaign, Dan Levitan, said in a statement, "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include.”

Another candidate, Michael Tolkin, has repeatedly met financial thresholds by giving his own campaign money and has not been invited to debate, either in the Democratic primary, where he came in a distant third to de Blasio and Sal Albanese, or in the general, where he is running on his self-created Smart Cities ballot line.

Albanese, too, is running again in the general, on the Reform Party line. He came in a distant second to de Blasio in the primary, but showed fairly well, at about 15%, given the substantial disadvantages he faced. Despite limited financial resources (Albanese barely qualified for the two primary debates where he faced de Blasio one-on-one), Albanese did poll better than Dietl in one recent general election survey, leading to cries of injustice from Albanese about his exclusion from the debate.

Both Albanese and Tolkin are suing to be included in the debate. Therefore, there’s a chance that the second debate, on CBS, could include up to five candidates.

The other two candidates who will be on the November ballot are Akeem Browder of the Green Party and Libertarian candidate Aaron Commey.

As for Dietl, he said he thinks the debate gave new life to his campaign, citing his performance, the overall response, and media interest the day after. Calling the debate “a real turning point,” Dietl said, "let's wait and see what the next poll says. I think you'll be surprised."

For her part, Malliotakis also said Wednesday that she believes the race is closer than the polls from Marist College and Quinnipiac University show, citing her campaign’s internal polling and the response she gets all over the city. “This is a race,” she said.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Who will be at the second mayoral debate? Thu, 12 Oct 2017 20:43:24 +0000
Good News and Bad News for Malliotakis' Mayoral Campaign http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7226:good-news-and-bad-news-for-malliotakis-in-mayoral-campaign http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7226:good-news-and-bad-news-for-malliotakis-in-mayoral-campaign malliotakis senior handshake via facebook

Nicole Malliotakis (via Facebook)


It’s been a bittersweet week for Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, a sitting Assemblymember from Staten Island, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.

While Malliotakis will have a major infusion of funds to get her message out and build her low name recognition across the five boroughs, she will also have to compete, at least for one important night, with the louder voice of a third mayoral candidate who threatens to debilitate Malliotakis’ chances of pulling off the long-shot upset of de Blasio, an incumbent with significant advantages in the race.

On Wednesday, independent mayoral candidate Bo Dietl, a brash former NYPD detective running on his own “Dump the Mayor” ballot line, announced that he had been invited to the first of two official mayoral debates ahead of the November 7 general election. Not only will Dietl pose a challenge to Malliotakis’ debate prospects in terms of positioning her opposition to de Blasio, but his inclusion immediately means more media attention and legitimacy for Dietl’s campaign.

The debate, scheduled for Tuesday, October 10 is organized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board and was mandatory for those participating in the CFB’s public matching funds program, which matches qualifying small-dollar contributions up to $175 at a 6-to-1 ratio. Malliotakis and de Blasio are participants in the program and Dietl is not, but he met the $500,000 debate threshold for campaign fundraising and spending and was also included in recent polling by NBC 4 New York/Marist.  

“While Dietl is not enrolled in the campaign finance program, we have decided to invite him based on his showing in a recent poll and his regular presence on the campaign trail,” said a spokesperson for Charter Communications, a debate sponsor and parent company of NY1, which will air the debate, also hosted by WNYC radio and other partners.

Dietl’s presence derails Malliotakis’ chances of a one-on-one, substantive debate with de Blasio -- he is a pugnacious, unpredictable character in the vein of Donald Trump -- but also threatens to further cut into votes that Malliotakis hopes to win. The two candidates share similar views and likely voters on a variety of issues, and their criticisms of the mayor are largely indistinguishable on many fronts. Both are significantly more conservative than de Blasio on most issues.

As it stands, in a city with six registered Democratic voters for each registered Republican, a conservative candidate has a limited constituency from which they can draw support and Dietl and Malliotakis have all along both been endangered by the likelihood of splitting anti-de Blasio votes. There is a significant number of party-unaffiliated voters to woo as well as moderate Democrats and Republicans, but most of the votes in play for Dietl or Malliotakis are largely out of the de Blasio target area to begin with.

Recently, Dietl has gone after Malliotakis, accusing her of filing fraudulent ballot petition signatures and insulting her at debates. Either purposely or not, he regularly mispronounce her name or refers to her in dismissive terms. Dietl argues that he is the only viable candidate who can defeat de Blasio and has called on Malliotakis to drop out of the race, which is is very unlikely to do.

“We’re surprised that the Bo Dietl traveling circus is included in the first debate,” said Rob Ryan, a Malliotakis campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “Nevertheless, Assemblywoman Malliotakis will hold Bill de Blasio accountable for his failure to solve the homeless crisis, fix our broken subway system and educate and keep our kids safe in our schools. She’s ready to take on Bill de Blasio and demand answers, it will be a great debate.”

While Dietl will continue to be a headache for Malliotakis and a distraction from her mission, the GOP standard bearer did receive some much more positive news this week.

On Thursday, the CFB approved a $1.52 million in public funds to be paid to Malliotakis’ campaign, bolstering her campaign coffers which held only $162,950, giving her a much-needed boost ahead of the debate and the final six weeks of the general election.

The added funds and the first debate may both help Malliotakis build much needed name recognition, including by spending more on advertising, and can also lead to the ability to bring in more money as the campaign continues -- a necessity if she is to run a viable campaign and make a stronger showing than Republican Joe Lhota made in 2013 against de Blasio, when Lhota received 24 percent of the vote to de Blasio’s 73 percent. In fact, on Friday Malliotakis' campaign announced her second video advertisement, attacking de Blasio on the issue of the subways, which the mayor does not control.

Malliotakis jumped into the mayoral race relatively late, in April, at a time when a well-funded candidate, millionaire real estate executive Paul Massey, was considered the frontrunner. After Massey dropped out, and other candidates failed to make an impression, Malliotakis quickly emerged at the front of the pack. But the three-term Assemblymember has struggled to raise her profile outside of her home borough of Staten Island and, somewhat relatedly, has not been able to raise especially significant funds for her campaign. Overall, she has raised $734,412 and spent $571,462.

Dietl, on the other hand, has relied on a network of wealthy allies to raise about $1 million, and has spent about $800,000.

Neither of them have come close to de Blasio, who has raised more than $5.25 million for his reelection and has received nearly $3 million in public funds. He has spent $5.78 million so far.

De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, Dan Levitan, did not appear worked up by the news of Dietl’s inclusion in the first debate. “We are looking forward to discussing the Mayor's record of achievement, his vision for making New York City more affordable, creating 100,000 jobs and continuing to improve our schools, and how important it is for New Yorkers to turn out to vote for a Mayor who will stand up to Donald Trump,” Levitan said in a statement.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Good News and Bad News for Malliotakis' Mayoral Campaign Fri, 29 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7212:james-agrees-to-general-election-debate-in-public-advocate-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7212:james-agrees-to-general-election-debate-in-public-advocate-race letitia james via teamsters

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TeamstersJC16)


Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection to one of three citywide positions, has agreed to debate her Republican opponent regardless of whether the challenger, J.C. Polanco, meets the fundraising requirements to qualify for an official debate sanctioned and sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

James, who easily won in the primary, is well ahead of Polanco, who did not face primary competition, in fundraising and name recognition. Polanco has, however, put forth detailed policy proposals and a rationale for seeking the office, while also challenging James to debate him for the good of the public electoral process. James has decided to pursue the opportunity, despite any risks debating may pose to a heavily-favored incumbent, to take the debate stage.

“The exchange of ideas and information is essential to democracy and good governance,” James said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss my key accomplishments as Public Advocate and outline my vision for supporting and empowering all New Yorkers.”

James has focused her efforts as public advocate on litigation and legislation, suing the city on several occasions and introducing and passing more legislation than her four predecessors, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not clear how many debates James will agree to or who will sponsor any that do occur. For public advocate candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching program, two formal, televised debates are required for those who meet the criteria, which include both fundraising and spending thresholds. But, James may be the only candidate in the field, which also includes the Green Party’s James Lane and others, to qualify for the debates. A campaign spokesperson did not indicate how many debates James would participate in.

Polanco, an attorney and the New York City liaison for the state Assembly minority, has promised to run a positive campaign and debate the role of the office and policy proposals. He has called James “ethical” and expressed his fondness for her as a person. He has also challenged her to debate him even though he is many thousands of dollars short of meeting the legal thresholds for the official, televised debates, which would provide him a much-needed boost in profile.

“As my opponent stated: ‘Brooklyn people don’t hide,’” James said. “I am proud of my record of standing up for New Yorkers and look forward to a spirited discussion with my Republican opponent on the issues that impact New York.”

While James is indeed a Brooklynite, and used to represent part of the borough in the City Council, Polanco is from the Bronx, where he still lives. Though Polanco has pledged a positive campaign, he has critiqued James for not speaking up more forcefully about de Blasio’s ethical lapses. Polanco is running on a platform of pushing for changes to the public advocate position itself, perhaps through a city charter revision commission, and a variety of other agenda items. Unlike James, Polanco is an outspoken proponent of expanding charter schools. He’s also advocating for allowing qualifying NYCHA residents to purchase their public housing units.

As she seeks a second term, James is especially proud of her legislation, passed through the City Council and signed into law by de Blasio, that bans employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. It is a move aimed at helping reduce the gender pay gap.

In order to qualify for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, a public advocate candidate must raise at least $125,000 from 500 donors living in New York City. When matching funds are dispersed, up to $175 of eligible donations are matched six to one. Public advocate candidates are eligible for up to $2,369,350 in public matching funds for what is deemed a competitive race. Participants have a general election spending cap of $4,357,000.

As of her most recent filing, James had raised a total of $943,854. She had spent about two-thirds of it, leaving her about $325,000 in the bank, and not yet qualified for public matching funds.

Polanco had raised just $21,675. He has explained how much of a challenge fundraising has been given that New York City Republicans have a major registration deficit and most attention for any hope of a citywide victory is given to the mayoral race. Polanco has also said that his opposition to President Donald Trump has hurt him among GOP establishment figures and potential donors.

When informed that James had agreed to debate him, Polanco said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "I am glad my opponent has taken up my challenge for a spirited debate on the issues. I took on the Herculean challenge so that New Yorkers have choice. I believe we are best served as a democracy when we compete for votes. I look forward to discussing my plans to push for charter school expansion, fixing the MTA train delays, keeping jails out of our neighborhoods, protecting kids from the horrors we have seen at ACS and standing up to a mayor regardless of party."

Part of James’ calculation in agreeing to debate may have to do with being granted matching funds. A campaign spokesperson did not reply to a question about the subject.

Earlier this year, the Campaign Finance Board and its debate sponsors scheduled the two televised public advocate general election debates for Monday, October 16 and Saturday October 24.

“The CFB’s debate program aims to give New York City voters the opportunity to compare candidates side by side in preparation for Election Day. The law was enacted to ensure that candidates in the public matching funds program debate their opponents, and we are excited that the Public Advocate debates will continue as planned. We will do everything we can to support and promote a vigorous debate,” said Katrina Shakarian, public relations officer at the Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated with a statement from Polanco, a statement from the CFB, and other additional information.

Note: this article has removed incorrect information about Comptroller Stringer being in a similar position to James. Stringer's Republican opponent, Michel Faulkner, has met the fundraising threshold to qualify for a CFB-sanctioned debate.

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James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7163:mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7163:mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races ortiz mailer crop

The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer


Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.

In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.

The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the rules and guidelines established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.

The New York City Charter states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)

There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.

For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.

But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The state Assembly’s blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.

“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”

ortiz mailer cropIn District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.

“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”

“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”

Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.

Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”

gjonaj mailer cropDoyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”

Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”

In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.

Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”

moya mailer cropIn a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”

Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”

The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.

Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”

The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.

Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.

“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races Tue, 29 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Five Democrats Will Be On The Mayoral Ballot, But Only Two Will Debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7133:five-democrats-will-be-on-the-mayoral-ballot-but-only-two-will-debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7133:five-democrats-will-be-on-the-mayoral-ballot-but-only-two-will-debate c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg large

Mayoral candidate Robert Gangi (photo:@GangiForMayor)


The first official debate in the Democratic mayoral primary is set for Wednesday, August 23, where Mayor Bill de Blasio will face former City Council Member Sal Albanese. But three more Democrats, all of whom will be on the September 12 ballot, failed to qualify for the debate and are crying foul that the Campaign Finance Board’s eligibility criteria are excluding them from participation.

For candidates to qualify for the first of two official CFB primary debates, they must have raised and spent at least $174,225, which is 2.5 percent of the $6,969,000 primary expenditure limit.

For the second “leading contenders” debate, for Democrats on September 6, a candidate must meet the fundraising and expenditure threshold as well as one of three additional criteria. These include an endorsement from a citywide, statewide or federal elected official who represents the area covered by the election; or an endorsement from a organization with 250 members; or “significant media exposure” in the 12 months before the election, defined in this case as 12 appearances in print, television, digital, or other local media.

Only de Blasio and Albanese have met the criteria for both primary debates. As of the latest filing, for mid-August, de Blasio has raised $4.8 million and spent $2.4 million, and recently received a public funds matching payment of $2.5 million, giving him $4.9 million in cash on hand. Albanese has raised just over $191,000 and spent $185,000, leaving just over $5,000 in his campaign account as of the filing. He has not yet qualified for matching funds.

Candidates who participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must appear in the debates if they qualify. For non-participants, inclusion in the debates is not guaranteed, the debate sponsors can choose to invite them.

The three other Democratic candidates on the ballot -- attorney Richard Bashner, police reform advocate Robert Gangi, and tech entrepreneur Michael Tolkin -- did not meet the threshold for the first primary debate. Both Bashner and Gangi have struggled to raise the necessary funds; Tolkin is the sole candidate of the bunch to not participate in the public funds program and would need to be invited on to the debate stage by sponsors.

Bashner, Gangi, and Tolkin are all protesting the CFB requirements and the fact that they will be on the outside looking in when de Blasio and Albanese face off. Even Albanese has criticized the requirements, which he barely met after a furious spending spree, and made an argument for a different threshold.

In the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, the debate thresholds were far lower: candidates had to raise and spend $50,000 but they also had to have received 2 percent in either a Quinnipiac University Poll or Marist Poll. Those thresholds were changed late last year through legislation passed by the City Council -- sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee -- and signed by de Blasio that increased the debate standards to the current 2.5 percent of the expenditure limit, as well as disqualifying loans or outstanding liabilities as counting towards that expenditure.

The bill was based on one of 14 recommendations by the CFB in its 2013 post-election report, which pointed out that debate thresholds had remained unchanged since 2005 while expenditure limits had increased more than 20 percent. “An increased standard, tied to the expenditure limit, is a better objective indicator of viability,” the report stated, recommending the increase.

Bashner has taken particular issue with the bill, insisting that it was a conflict for Mayor de Blasio to sign it into law since it has largely benefited him. The Brooklyn-based attorney and community board member has raised about $118,785 and spent $104,000, but $50,000 in contributions were a personal loan he made to his campaign.

In a letter to the CFB on Monday, Bashner called the bill that changed the debate law the “Incumbent Protection Act” and called on the board to allow all the mayor’s challengers to participate in the debates. At the very least, he argued, those who have met the 2013 threshold of $50,000 should be included. “Voters deserve the opportunity to hear where each of these challengers stands on the critical issues facing our city,” he wrote. “To silence the voices of these candidates is to impede democracy.”

Council Member Kallos defended the legislation, saying the CFB’s recommendation to increase the threshold was a “reasonable” one. “The piece that I found to be important was that candidates had to actually be spending money towards winning an election and that loans and liabilities wouldn’t count,” he said in a phone interview, insisting that the effect was two-fold. “Wealthy people couldn’t just write themselves a loan that they intended to pay back fully,” to get into the debates. “It also just changes it from a situation where people could loan and spend money that was illusory as opposed to raising and spending actual dollars.”

At one point, it did seem that de Blasio would commit to an open debate with his opponents. He initially seemed reluctant, insisting in a July interview on NY1, “We’re going to follow the CFB rules.” None of his opponents had qualified for the debates by then. The mayor then changed his position, saying in an August 3 tweet, “Regardless of CFB requirements, I'll be on a debate stage before the Sept 12th primary.”

Albanese criticized the mayor’s flip-flop, saying de Blasio issued the statement “when he saw that I was gonna blow past the threshold.” “I don’t find that to be a good government position, it was more of a political, expedient position,” he added.

It’s unclear if the mayor will end up debating all the candidates on the ballot. "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio's campaign, in an email.

Gangi and Tolkin have directed their ire more towards the CFB, taking turns to condemn the debate requirements and the board itself.

"The CFB's decision is a disgrace,” Tolkin said in a statement Tuesday. “It is reflective of a system virtually designed to keep non-politicians out of the election process. We are studying this decision closely and considering a range of options; however, it is clear that a comprehensive review of the CFB’s decision-making process is long overdue.”

Tolkin has taken a peculiar approach to his campaign finances, showing almost $8 million in personal in-kind contributions to his campaign, which are also counted as expenditures. But the CFB determined that those did not qualify him for the debate. Nevertheless, Tolkin challenged de Blasio to participate in three additional debates before the primary with all the Democratic candidates. “Mayor de Blasio’s unwillingness to participate in debates with the full slate of candidates is an obstruction to a fair and transparent primary process - one that he was afforded as a candidate in 2013,” he said.

For Gangi, campaign fundraising has been an even bigger challenge. He has raised only about $88,000 and spent just over $75,000. But, like Bashner, he lent his campaign a significant sum, $74,000, which would not count towards the contribution limit for the debates.

In a campaign statement on Tuesday, Gangi said the financial thresholds “are inherently unfair and undemocratic” by favoring wealthy candidates and incumbents with access to deep-pocketed donors. He was particularly incensed that he had been excluded after the CFB had issued public funds to de Blasio’s campaign partly based on a de Blasio campaign “statement of need” that pointed to Gangi as one of the mayor’s main competitors. “On what basis does the CFB then decide that de Blasio does not have to debate me?” he wondered.

“If my campaign is part of the rationale for granting the Mayor an extra [$2.5] million in tax payer [sic] matching funds, then it should have sufficient standing to earn a seat at the debate table,” he added.

CFB spokesperson Matt Sollars said in an email that the new thresholds were adopted in advance so all candidates would be aware of them. “City law sets objective, nonpartisan criteria for eligibility to participate in the citywide debates,” he said. “These criteria ensure that voters get a robust debate among candidates who have demonstrated public support.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Five Democrats Will Be On The Mayoral Ballot, But Only Two Will Debate Wed, 16 Aug 2017 02:11:01 +0000
Removal of Last Primary Opponent Could Cost Malliotakis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7112:removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7112:removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis malliotakis campaigning 
GOP mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis (photo: @NMalliotakis)


After Michel Faulkner shifted his mayoral campaign to one for comptroller and real estate executive Paul Massey suspended his altogether, State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis' campaign began referring to her as "the presumptive Republican nomee in the race for Mayor." Still, the only thing standing between Malliotakis and the GOP nomination was wealthy businessman Rocky De La Fuente, a candidate who recently relocated from California.

That hurdle was removed on Tuesday, when the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) ruled against De La Fuente after two Malliotakis supporters, Bryan Jung and James Thomson, filed objections against his ballot petition signatures with the blessing of the Malliotakis campaign. The objectors contended that hundreds of the candidate’s signatures were forged, and the board agreed.

While it cleared the field, the move may have created a different kind of hurdle for the presumptive GOP nominee, who expects to face off against the winner of the September 12 Democratic primary, likely incumbent mayor Bill de Blasio.

Though she has previously called it a waste of taxpayer money, Malliotakis is a participant in the city’s public matching funds program (she's said she's still against it but must participate if her opponents are). The initiative, run by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB), matches individual donations of up to $175 at a six-to-one ration for candidates that meet certain criteria and agree to restrictions on spending and debate participation. One criteria to receive funds is that a candidate must be in a competitive election; with the exclusion of De La Fuente from the GOP primary, Malliotakis’ camp has essentially disqualified itself from receiving any public funds before primary day.

On Thursday, the CFB voted to approve the disbursement of about $2.57 million in matching funds to de Blasio after he somewhat controversially submitted a statement of need arguing that his main Democratic opposition – former City Council Member Sal Albanese and police reform activist Bob Gangi – constituted more than just minimal opposition, based largely on media exposure. Until such a statement is approved, a candidate can receive up to 25% of the maximum allowable payments per race, which for mayoral races is a little over $958,000 of the possible $3,832,950 in funds, as long as they have some competition.

The public funds haul leaves the mayor with over $5 million on hand. After the primary election, he is eligible to receive up to another $3.83 million in public funds if he can likewise prove that the race will be competitive and raise more matchable donations. De Blasio can now reasonably spend a good deal of money in the primary to get his message out.

Malliotakis actually also submitted a similar statement of need to the CFB in which she lists De La Fuente as her opposition, incorrectly arguing that he is a non-participant in the matching funds program and that he intends to self-finance his campaign. In fact, the CFB’s records list De La Fuente as being a participant in the program, meaning that he would be held to the same thresholds and standards that Malliotakis would.

A Gotham Gazette analysis found that Malliotakis has raised about $140,000 in funds eligible for public matching – contributions by individuals living in the city of which up to $175 is counted – out of the $250,000 necessary to qualify for the program. This means that even in a contested primary election she would still be ineligible to receive public funds for now.

Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, confirmed that even if Malliotakis does manage to raise enough funds to hit the threshold before September 12, the lack of a primary opponent will bar her from receiving the potentially millions of dollars that she would otherwise be entitled to. That fact raises the question of whether it was smart for her allies to move to knock De La Fuente off the ballot, given that Malliotakis would have been a strong favorite to defeat him in the primary. She also forgoes the exposure that one or two primary debates would have brought. It does, however, allow her to focus on raising money to use only for touting her candidacy and attacking de Blasio. And, Malliotakis has been able to garner significant media exposure thus far by identifying a variety of points on which to criticize de Blasio.

While de Blasio has all that extra money to spend, he will be debating Albanese and possibly others at least once, if not twice, both offering him a platform to reach voters and putting him in a high-profile venue for criticism and possible gaffe-making.

Once they have qualified, candidates for mayor are able to receive up to $3,832,950 for both the primary election and the general election; once they have raised the necessary $250,000 in eligible donations from at least 1,000 city residents, they are qualified for both elections as long as they have opposition. They are not required to spend all of their primary election funds in order to receive general election funds, and in fact are barred from spending more than $6,969,000 per election.

As of the mid-July campaign finance filing, Malliotakis had raised a total of $344,421, with $275,324 available to spend after expenses. Her next filing, due mid-August, will shed light on whether she has been able to pick up the fundraising pace and how close she is to qualifying for matching funds. In a statement at the time of the July filing, Malliotakis campaign spokesperson Rob Ryan said, "In a little more than two months the Malliotakis campaign has raised nearly $350,000. We are meeting our projections and expect to qualify for the Campaign Finance Board’s matching fund program in the next fundraising period. That means Bill de Blasio will be facing a competitive challenger on Election Day."

In a phone conversation, De La Fuente said that he does not intend to appeal the BOE’s finding. Even if there was a ruling in his favor, he would be added to the ballot just before the primary, a situation he likened to running a race where your competitor starts near the finish line. Instead, he said he was in the process of compiling evidence of what he called Malliotakis’ “fraud” and would be posting it online as well as sending it to the state attorney general for investigation.

Ryan, the spokesperson for the Malliotakis campaign, told Gotham Gazette, “It didn’t make political, financial, or strategic sense to be involved in a primary if one didn’t have to.”

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Removal of Last Primary Opponent Could Cost Malliotakis Sat, 05 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7041:high-participation-in-campaign-matching-funds-but-several-big-name-opt-outs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7041:high-participation-in-campaign-matching-funds-but-several-big-name-opt-outs kallos council street presser

Council Member Kallos (photo: City Council)


As the September 12 primary elections approach and campaigns kick into high gear, a vast majority of candidates for the city’s elected offices will have their coffers bolstered by the Campaign Finance Board’s (CFB) public matching funds program, which matches eligible donations at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Most candidates, but not all. According to data provided by the CFB, 14 of 51 incumbents this cycle are not participating in the program, which was created by the city in 1988 in part to allow challengers to compete on a more level playing field with incumbents, who are usually better able to raise money. The deadline for certifying in the matching program was June 12, three months before primary day, September 12. There will be 51 City Council, five borough president, and three citywide seats on the ballot this fall.

While there are several prominent elected officials not participating, there is plenty of good news for the program at large. ”Overall participation rate remains very high this cycle,” said Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matt Sollars. “In fact, it may end up higher than in 2013 when 79 percent of all registered candidates participated in the program.” Current participation stands at 82 percent of all candidates.

Supporters of the program contend that it both incentivizes political participation from potential candidates that are not independently wealthy and do not have the connections and fundraising chops of others, especially incumbents, and it incentivizes incumbents to focus their efforts on courting large numbers of possible donors from their own constituencies as opposed to going after a few big-dollar contributions.

To qualify for the matching program, candidates must hit contribution and contributor thresholds and are subject to stringent spending caps. For example, participants running for City Council must raise contributions of $10 or more from 75 donors in their district and $5,000 in the matchable portion (the first $175) of contributions from any city resident. Participants are limited to spending $49,000 in out-years – the years preceding the election year – and $182,000 for each the primary and general election. Funds spent in excess of the cap during off years are counted against the election year caps.

Gotham Gazette reported in April that 10 City Council incumbents had surpassed the out-year limits and several were not planning to participate in the matching program. Of these, eight – Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Andy King, Peter Koo, Jimmy Van Bramer, Brad Lander, David Greenfield, and Jumaane Williams – ultimately are not using the program in their reelection campaigns.

At least four of them have been open about their desire to replace term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker of the City Council, a separate campaign in its own right, albeit one that courts fellow Council members as opposed to district constituents. This usually involves hiring consultants and campaign staff, and occasionally making contributions to Council colleagues and other influential figures, all as part of the cycle’s overall raise and spend efforts.

Council Member Costa Constantinides surpassed the off-year spending cap, with just over $64,000 in spending, but is still a participant in the program. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who spent over $269,000 in off-years and had been considered a front-runner in the Speaker race, announced recently that she is not running for reelection.

Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”

“Those public dollars are there to incentivize elected officials, perhaps more importantly than candidates, to take small-dollar donations instead of the more corrupting checks for $2,750,” he said, referencing the individual donation contribution limit for City Council races.

A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data found that the three Council candidates who have received the most max contributions of $2,750 this election cycle -- Greenfield, Van Bramer, and Johnson -- are also not participating in the program. Greenfield, who has spent a total of over $350,000 this election cycle – partly to air a weekly radio program – has received the most: 163, well over double the next highest amount of max donations to a Council candidate.

A spokesperson for Greenfield said, in an emailed statement, “the out-year limits make it impossible for elected officials in leadership positions in the Council, including over a dozen Council Members seeking re-election, to participate.” While Greenfield is chair of the powerful Committee on Land Use, it is not clear why it was necessary to spend over six times the off-year limit, a limit adhered to by, for example, Deputy Leaders Deborah Rose and Ritchie Torres, who are both running for reelection.

Five Council incumbents – Andrew Cohen, Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, and Rafael Espinal – did not hit their spending caps but still opted not to participate in the program. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams similarly did not hit his off-year spending cap – which for borough president races is $146,000 – but did not opt in to the program.

A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data, based on the zip codes of the neighborhoods that the Council members represent, found that Cohen and Salamanca do not appear to have yet hit the district contributor threshold of 75 individual donors in this election cycle. Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, stressed that the threshold does not need to be met as of yet, but until the candidates begin receiving public payments in August, after the ballot is set.

Lander, Cohen, and Dromm do not have registered opponents. While payouts from the program require candidates to have an opponent on the ballot, candidates can still join in anticipation of incoming challengers.

According to Kallos, any step back in participation is “a side effect of not having proper incentives.”

To create some of these incentives, last year he introduced a bill, Int. 1130, that would increase the public funds disbursement cap, currently 55 percent of the spending limit, to the full amount of the spending limit. This would mean that if a candidate raised enough funds from their constituency, they could receive matching funds that would bring them to the full spending limits for the primary and general elections – $182,000 each for Council candidates, more for borough and citywide offices. The bill is currently in committee – if it were to pass it would not be in effect for this city election cycle.

No candidates have yet hit election year spending caps for program participation; the Council incumbent closest to the cap is Corey Johnson, who has spent $121,174 so far this year, but he is not a participant in the program.

Council Member Williams defended opting out of the program, saying that he didn’t need the funds and “you don’t always want to spend the public’s money if you don’t have to.” He also drew attention to his candidacy to the Speaker role, and argued that part of the problem was “no allotment for that,” and mentioned the possibility of a legislative fix.

According to Sollars of the CFB, participants in the program can elect to turn away payments if they don’t feel that they need them, a strategy that was employed by several officials in the last cycle.

“I don’t intend to spend more than the cap anyway,” Williams said, adding “I fully intend to make sure I have the small donor amounts that I would have if I was taking public funds.”

One source familiar with the Council and the CFB system who spoke on the condition of anonymity pointed to a bill passed last year by the Council, Local Law 189, as a potential dissuasive force to candidates entering the program. The law standardizes a process for transferring campaign funds between "political" and "principal" committees, essentially allowing candidates to roll campaign funds from one election into the next and effectively enabling them to build up large campaign war chests over time.

Aside from Brooklyn's Adams, the other four borough presidents, all also seeking reelection, have opted in. As have the three incumbent citywide elected officials: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James. Republicans seeking those positions, even some who have criticized the public campaign finance system in the past, are also participating.

The CFB, for its part, is happy with the overall triumph of its initiative. “This outstanding participation rate demonstrates the strength of New York City's small-donor matching program to encourage more fair and equitable city elections,” said Executive Director Amy Loprest in a statement.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs Wed, 28 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The 2017 City Election Debate Schedule Is Here http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6984:the-2017-city-election-debate-schedule-is-here http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6984:the-2017-city-election-debate-schedule-is-here cfb debates presser via nyccfb

Debate announcement press conference (photo: @NYCCFB)


The New York City Campaign Finance Board announced the debate schedule and sponsors for the 2017 citywide elections on Thursday afternoon. Debates will take place, given more than one qualifying candidate, for the primaries and general elections for Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Mayor.

This year’s two “sponsor groups” are large and varied, with the first group including Spectrum News NY1, WNYC, POLITICO, Citizens Union, Civic Hall, Intelligence Squared, and Latino Leadership Institute. They will sponsor the first debates of both the primary and general election cycles.  

The second group, which consists of WCBS, WLNY 10/55, NewsRadio 880, 1010 WINS, the Daily News, Common Cause/NY, CUNY, New York Immigration Coalition, and Rock the Vote will sponsor the “leading contenders” debates, or second debate of each race and round.

Representatives from the Campaign Finance Board and sponsor organizations held a press conference Thursday at City Hall to announce the schedule and discuss the importance of the debates. The schedule is:

Primary Elections - First Debates
The first Republican mayoral primary debate will take place on Wednesday, August 16 at 7 p.m. in CUNY’s Graduate Center Studio and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish), and WNYC radio.

The first Democratic mayoral primary debate will be held on Wednesday, August 23 at 7 p.m. at Symphony Space and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish), and WNYC radio.

The first Democratic primary debate for Public Advocate will be held on Monday, August 21 at 7 p.m. at NY1 Studio and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish), and WNYC radio.

The first Democratic primary debate for Comptroller will take place on Tuesday, August 22 at 7 p.m. in NY1 Studio and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish), and WNYC radio.

Primary Elections - Second or “Leading Contenders” Debates
The second Republican mayoral primary debate will take place on Thursday, September 7 at 7 p.m. in CUNY’s Graduate Center Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 (Spanish), as well as on radio at 1010WINS and NewsRadio 880.

The second Democratic mayoral primary debate will be held on Wednesday, September 6 at 7 p.m. in CUNY’s Graduate Center Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 (Spanish), as well as on radio at 1010WINS, and NewsRadio 880

The second Democratic primary debate for Public Advocate will be on Saturday, August 26 at 9 a.m. in CBS Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 (Spanish), and on radio at 1010WINS, and NewsRadio 880.

The second Democratic primary debate for Comptroller will be held on Sunday, September 10 at 8 a.m. in CBS Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 and on radio at 1010WINS and NewsRadio 880.

General Election - First Debates
The first general election debate for Mayor will be held on Tuesday, October 10 at 7 p.m. in Symphony Space and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish) and on WNYC radio.

The first general election debate for Public Advocate will be held on Monday, October 16 at 7 p.m. in The Greene Space and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish) and on WNYC radio.

The first general election debate for Comptroller will take place on Tuesday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in The Greene Space and will be available on NY1, NY1 Noticias (Spanish), and on WNYC radio.

General Election - Second or “Leading Contenders” Debate
The second general election debate for Mayor will be held on Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m. in CUNY’s Graduate Center Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 (Spanish) and on radio at 1010 WINS and NewsRadio 880.

The second general election debate for Public Advocate will be held on Saturday, October 21 at 9 a.m. in CBS Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 (Spanish) and on radio at 1010WINS and NewsRadio 880.

The second general election debate for Comptroller will take place on Sunday, October 22 at 8 a.m. in CBS Studio and will be available on WCBS, WLNY-TV 10/55 and on radio at 1010WINS and NewsRadio 880.

In addition, all of the debates will also be livestreamed on the websites of each sponsor group and on the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

There are different criteria for the four debate rounds, so to speak: first debates of the primary, second debates of the primary; first debates of the general; second debates of the general. See the full explanation of criteria here.

“In this fall’s city wide elections, New Yorkers have the opportunity to vote for the kind of city they want to live in,” Amy Loprest, the executive director of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, stated in making the debates announcement. “Voters want information about where the candidates stand on the issues that matter most in their everyday lives, from jobs to schools to the cost of living. The CFB’s Debate Program is a critical part of our effort to get that information to voters and help them get ready to cast an informed ballot.”

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The 2017 City Election Debate Schedule Is Here Thu, 08 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6934:city-council-members-question-campaign-finance-board-audit-process http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6934:city-council-members-question-campaign-finance-board-audit-process greenfield nyccouncil

City Council Member David Greenfield (photo: @NYCCouncil)


At a City Council hearing on Friday, representatives of the city’s Campaign Finance Board expected to answer questions about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year but instead found themselves defending their processes for post-election auditing of campaigns.

One of the Campaign Finance Board’s prime functions is to perform detailed examinations of how candidate campaigns utilize funds and whether they adhere to the strict requirements of campaign finance law. These post-election audits sometimes take years to complete and can involve hefty fines, in the range of thousands of dollars, for campaigns that are found to have committed campaign violations. They can also involve repayment obligations for candidates who receive public matching funds from the CFB.

Of the 234 campaigns from 2013, the last city election cycle year, the CFB has completed audits on 214, with a few more slated for completion next month, according to testimony at the hearing from CFB executive director Amy Loprest. Some of those 214, including that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, were completed earlier this year. Audits of two campaigns from the 2009 election cycle also remain incomplete, Loprest said, owing to a long-running investigation in one campaign and a legal challenge by another.

For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.

The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.

About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.

But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.

“We’re trying to balance the needs of the work and be fiscally responsible,” Loprest said, welcoming the idea of more personnel funding for candidate services.

“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.

Kallo also questioned the CFB’s spending on lobbying the state Legislature to push election and voting reforms, arguing that perhaps it needs to focus its attention closer to home in the city. The CFB’s mandated voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, engages in efforts around voter awareness, voter registration, and election law lobbying.

Greenfield was more vociferous in his rebuke of the system, repeatedly interrupting and talking over Loprest as she sought to defend the necessity of the in-depth auditing process.

Loprest told Greenfield that more than half of the 214 campaigns from 2013 that had been audited received some or the other penalty or a repayment obligation, which is not always considered a violation since it can involve leftover funds in a campaign’s account. Greenfield wasn’t pleased with the answer, seeing it as an indication that the program is faulty. “Either there’s a program that is designed for people to fail...or you’re not spending enough time and resources helping people through the program,” he said.

He added, “To me that’s a very serious concern about how the system works. If we have a system where most people who are part of the system end up failing the system, then the reflection is not on the people, rather it’s a reflection on the system.”

Greenfield said the system was unfair, painting candidates as having committed wrongdoings, as opposed to minor accounting mistakes. “Every time one of these things happens, our very capable reporters...they blow it up,” he said, pointing to the press section in the City Council chambers to illustrate his point (Greenfield repeatedly gestured toward the press section and referred to stories that look like more than they really are).

Loprest refuted his contention about CFB violations. “Many of these things are more akin to parking violations,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair, it’s very high stakes,” Greenfield said, interrupting Loprest and insisting that CFB violations are not as “benign” as parking tickets. “To compare it to parking tickets, I don’t think that’s really fair because you’re a government agency and the implication is that these people are engaged in some sort of wrongdoing and it gets blown out of proportion.” He pressed the point that the CFB’s audit process is in fact discouraging electoral participation, particularly for first-time candidates, and needs to be simplified.

Although Loprest pushed back, she did concede near the end of the hearing that the process could be better and that the CFB was already taking steps to that end. “One of the things we’re engaged in right now is a review of our audit processes in order to to make the audit process simpler and more streamlined,” she said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process Mon, 15 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds kallos council

Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)


A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).

The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.

For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.

Intro. 1130-A, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).

If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.

The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”

The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.

Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.

Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.

When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”

A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.

“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system.  

Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”

The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”

One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”

Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds Thu, 27 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000