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Campaign Finance

by Jessica Green, Mar 27, 2000
 

THE LOWDOWN:

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The special election for former Council member Andrew Eristoff's seat on the Upper East Side was one of the first eligible for the new 4:1 campaign finance program. (Under the previous matching formula, contributions were matched at a 1:1 rate up to $1,000.) It is also widely held to be the most expensive city council race ever. Reba White Williams, former chairwoman of the City Art Commission, spent at least $1.12M in her losing effort. Her competitor - and the victor - Eva Moskowitz, participated in the campaign finance program and spent less than half that. While Ms. Williams was pumping unprecedented sums of her own money into the campaign, Ms. Moskowitz received $91,000 in public funds, about 20% of her total expenditures. She also raised $330,000 from numerous (1,110) contributors.

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As the 2001 election cycle approaches, it seems that candidates are taking the Moskowitz approach: smaller contributions from more contributors, which maximizes the benefits of the four to one matching. (Since funds are only matched up to $250, it behooves the candidate to get smaller contributions from a diverse body.) Recent reports from the Campaign Finance Board show that 60 people have already filed campaign finance data for the 2001 cycle, compared with only 17 at the same point in the 1997 cycle. Thus far, the filings reveal that the top ten fundraisers have raised 21% more money, from 32% more donors; the average size of the contribution is 14% lower. This means more competitors, more widely supported - a fact that at least in theory, is good for democracy.

THE PROGRAM:

Campaign Finance Board - Explains the ins and outs of the NYC campaign finance program. Highlights include: 1) No corporate contributions; 2) No contributions from unregistered PACs 3) No matching funds for organizations or non-residents; and of course, 4) Full disclosure.

Local Law 48 - Passed by the Council in August 1998, after being vetoed by the Mayor and overridden by the Council by a vote of 44-4. The Mayor's response to the override was acerbic, as usual.

THE RESULTS:

FOR THE RECORD:

These are the totals of contributions to date of the would-be mayoral candidates:

Fernando Ferrer (Bronx Borough Pres)

$1,683,483

Mark Green (Public Advocate)

$1,758,018

Alan Hevesi (City Comptroller)

$3,527,164

Peter Vallone (City Council)

$2,124,646

Campaign Finance Board reports that election activity for the 2001 races has greatly outpaced the 1997 elections. Despite lower contribution limits, filings show that more contributors are giving more money in smaller amounts. And while it cannot be concluded that the campaign finance reform is the singular cause of this change, it is certainly a significant factor.

"Money's No Object" - The special election in the fourth City Council district between Reba White Williams and Eva Moskowitz this November was one of the first under the new 4:1 matching rules.

THE ADVOS:

Common Cause - the goo-goo of campaign finance gives kudos to the Campaign Finance Board for putting extensive searchable information on their site. At its debut in the winter of 1998, Common Cause lauded the CFB for being "among the most complete and user friendly sites in the country."

Opensecrets.org - For campaign finance information on Congressional and Senatorial races, check out this indispensable site from the Center for Responsive Politics.

GrannyD - Though lobbying for major federal reforms in campaign finance laws, this irrepressible 90-year-old has a lot to say on the issue.


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