Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/campaign-finance-reform 2019-07-22T14:06:37+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 6 Real, Meaningful Changes New York’s New Campaign Finance Commission Should Pursue 2019-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8663-6-real-meaningful-changes-new-york-s-new-campaign-finance-commission-should-pursue Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomo-flag-albanycap.jpg" alt="govcuomo flag albanycap" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State government has often failed to address our biggest challenges. Surprisingly, during the 2019 legislative session real protections for renters were approved over the objections of New York’s powerful real estate industry. Congestion pricing for Manhattan’s central business district was written into law, along with far-reaching climate change legislation. Cash bail was abolished for most crimes, and bump stocks that cause rifles to fire like machine guns were banned. Women’s rights and LGBTQ rights were enhanced in important ways.</p> <p>Yet, efforts to reform the electoral process stalled after a few notable successes. To revive momentum, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature created a commission and charged it with issuing rules to implement public campaign financing by December 1. The commissioners were named last week and are about to set to work.</p> <p>Structural change to New York State’s campaign finance system is crucial. The ease with which legislative influence is traded for money in Albany has created a culture of corruption that promotes special interests above the public interest.</p> <p>We have yet to come to terms with rusting bridges, crumbling infrastructure, and failing public transit networks. Public housing slides further into disrepair daily. Young people of color are denied quality education. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers have no health insurance. The public will be ill-served on these and other matters if legislation responds to the demands of the highest bidders.</p> <p>As the campaign finance commission begins its work, here are six ways to ensure our state elected officials represent everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.</p> <p>1. New York needs lower election contribution limits, a cap on campaign expenditures, and a ban on donations from political action committees, businesses, and unions.</p> <p>Current law allows candidates for statewide office to accept the obscene amount of $47,500 from a single contributor, and more than $65,000 if they face a primary. State Senate candidates can accept $18,000, aspiring Assembly members more than $9,000. The threshold for all these offices should be lowered to $5,000 so that no single contributor can hold sway over an official. Candidates should also be subject to an overall campaign cap of $1 per constituent to limit the quest for cash.</p> <p>2. New York should join 29 states that wisely ban elected officials from fund-raising during the legislative session. Cashing checks while passing laws creates the undeniable appearance of corruption. Violators should be forced to forfeit all of an event’s contributions, along with a penalty of an equal amount, into a public election fund.</p> <p>3. New York should establish a statewide public finance system that mirrors New York City’s. Candidates who meet minimum thresholds should receive $8 of public matching funds for each dollar of a donation up to $250. This would encourage candidates to seek support from all their constituents, not just the rich.</p> <p>4. Candidates for public office should be required to release five years of federal and state tax returns to enable voters to determine how official decisions might affect a lawmaker’s pockets.</p> <p>5. Increasing New York’s ban on lobbying after government service from two years to five would provide a greater buffer against the risk of lawmakers trading votes for the promise of future employment.</p> <p>6. The campaign finance commission should signal support for legislation sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger to strengthen the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>She has proposed a nine-member commission with five selected by the chief judge of New York and the presiding justices of each of the state’s four appellate divisions, and the remaining four chosen by elected officials. Decisions should be determined by a majority vote.</p> <p>In addition to overseeing lobbying, the new JCOPE should exercise enforcement power over campaign finance so that the crucial elements of the Albany Arrangement’s pay-to-play culture are monitored by a single entity.</p> <p>These proposed reforms will diminish the corrosive influence of cash on politics. Transparency and accountability will rise, and the public interest will displace special interests as the most important influence on our lawmakers. The campaign finance commission has a rare opportunity to effect long-lasting improvements to our democracy. They should seize the moment and act boldly.</p> <p>***<br />Chris McNickle is a historian, author, and businessman. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYChrisMcnickle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYChrisMcnickle</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomo-flag-albanycap.jpg" alt="govcuomo flag albanycap" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State government has often failed to address our biggest challenges. Surprisingly, during the 2019 legislative session real protections for renters were approved over the objections of New York’s powerful real estate industry. Congestion pricing for Manhattan’s central business district was written into law, along with far-reaching climate change legislation. Cash bail was abolished for most crimes, and bump stocks that cause rifles to fire like machine guns were banned. Women’s rights and LGBTQ rights were enhanced in important ways.</p> <p>Yet, efforts to reform the electoral process stalled after a few notable successes. To revive momentum, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature created a commission and charged it with issuing rules to implement public campaign financing by December 1. The commissioners were named last week and are about to set to work.</p> <p>Structural change to New York State’s campaign finance system is crucial. The ease with which legislative influence is traded for money in Albany has created a culture of corruption that promotes special interests above the public interest.</p> <p>We have yet to come to terms with rusting bridges, crumbling infrastructure, and failing public transit networks. Public housing slides further into disrepair daily. Young people of color are denied quality education. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers have no health insurance. The public will be ill-served on these and other matters if legislation responds to the demands of the highest bidders.</p> <p>As the campaign finance commission begins its work, here are six ways to ensure our state elected officials represent everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.</p> <p>1. New York needs lower election contribution limits, a cap on campaign expenditures, and a ban on donations from political action committees, businesses, and unions.</p> <p>Current law allows candidates for statewide office to accept the obscene amount of $47,500 from a single contributor, and more than $65,000 if they face a primary. State Senate candidates can accept $18,000, aspiring Assembly members more than $9,000. The threshold for all these offices should be lowered to $5,000 so that no single contributor can hold sway over an official. Candidates should also be subject to an overall campaign cap of $1 per constituent to limit the quest for cash.</p> <p>2. New York should join 29 states that wisely ban elected officials from fund-raising during the legislative session. Cashing checks while passing laws creates the undeniable appearance of corruption. Violators should be forced to forfeit all of an event’s contributions, along with a penalty of an equal amount, into a public election fund.</p> <p>3. New York should establish a statewide public finance system that mirrors New York City’s. Candidates who meet minimum thresholds should receive $8 of public matching funds for each dollar of a donation up to $250. This would encourage candidates to seek support from all their constituents, not just the rich.</p> <p>4. Candidates for public office should be required to release five years of federal and state tax returns to enable voters to determine how official decisions might affect a lawmaker’s pockets.</p> <p>5. Increasing New York’s ban on lobbying after government service from two years to five would provide a greater buffer against the risk of lawmakers trading votes for the promise of future employment.</p> <p>6. The campaign finance commission should signal support for legislation sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger to strengthen the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>She has proposed a nine-member commission with five selected by the chief judge of New York and the presiding justices of each of the state’s four appellate divisions, and the remaining four chosen by elected officials. Decisions should be determined by a majority vote.</p> <p>In addition to overseeing lobbying, the new JCOPE should exercise enforcement power over campaign finance so that the crucial elements of the Albany Arrangement’s pay-to-play culture are monitored by a single entity.</p> <p>These proposed reforms will diminish the corrosive influence of cash on politics. Transparency and accountability will rise, and the public interest will displace special interests as the most important influence on our lawmakers. The campaign finance commission has a rare opportunity to effect long-lasting improvements to our democracy. They should seize the moment and act boldly.</p> <p>***<br />Chris McNickle is a historian, author, and businessman. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYChrisMcnickle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYChrisMcnickle</a>.</p> <p>

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Cautious Optimism Among Reformers After State Public Campaign Financing Commission Named 2019-07-08T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-08T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8659-reformers-hopeful-after-state-public-campaign-finance-commission-named Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rep-dem-unaff-indie-voters/fairelectionsny.jpg" alt="fairelectionsny" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: @FairElectionsNY)</p> <hr /> <p>As New Yorkers geared up for the holiday weekend last week, state government leaders announced appointments to a new commission with the lofty task of establishing a statewide public campaign financing system.</p> <p>The body is seen by many as an opportunity to reduce the influence of wealthy donors on state politics by creating a small-dollar matching program that would amplify the impact of contributions made by average residents, in the vein of what exists in New York City.</p> <p>Established during budget negotiations earlier this year, the Public Campaign Finance Commission is mandated to create a voluntary system for statewide and state legislative candidates to receive public matching funds in exchange for meeting certain fundraising and spending criteria.</p> <p>The commission is responsible for issuing a report with recommendations by December 1 and holding a public hearing on its findings. The recommendations become binding if lawmakers, who will be out of session, don’t act to modify them within 20 days of their release.</p> <p>On July 3, the governor and legislative leaders revealed their appointees to the nine-member commission, which set off fanfare and a measure of caution from advocates, three months after it was created by law.</p> <p>“The law charges the commissioners named today with a historic task: design a public financing system that incentivizes candidates to seek more small donations. If they do it right, their system they create will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in Albany,” wrote Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, in a statement after the announcement. “If the commissioners do it wrong, their system will fail, and Albany’s status quo will remain.”</p> <p>Doing it “right,” according to Norden and the Brennan Center, as well as many other advocates, means having a large public match in both primary and general elections, low qualifying thresholds, and low contribution limits for individuals, all of which they believe encourages candidates to rely on many small contributions rather than a few large ones.</p> <p>A Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/new-yorks-wealthiest-played-outsized-role-funding-2018-campaigns">analysis</a> released in December found that 100 individual donors contributed more to state candidates than all of the roughly 137,000 small donors combined in the 2018 election cycle. Reformers view this outsized impact as a threat to democratic processes.</p> <p>“New York’s electoral system is in desperate need of reform. Dark money routinely pours in to control public opinion, misinform voters, and benefit special interests,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, wrote in a statement accompanying appointments to the commission, which also cited related accomplishments from earlier this year, like “closing the LLC loophole” and confidence that the commission will design a system to make New York elections “fairer.”</p> <p>The creation of a commission to study and establish public campaign financing in New York State is part of a concerted effort by reformers, both inside and outside government, to limit the role of money in politics. That push took on new meaning after the U.S. Supreme Court authorized virtually unlimited political spending under the First Amendment in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which unleashed the Super PAC era.</p> <p>The effort gained new steam this year when Democrats took control of the state Senate and thus both houses of the state Legislature under a Democratic governor who has publicly supported state-level campaign financing for years.</p> <p>When the commission was first announced in April, advocates called for appointments to be independent of the powers that choose them and representative of the state’s diverse constituencies, upstate and downstate.</p> <p>A majority of the commission’s appointments come from Albany’s Democratic leadership with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Stewart-Cousins each choosing two commissioners, with another appointed jointly by all three. The remaining two commissioners are appointed by minority leaders of the legislative houses.</p> <p>Last Wednesday, Cuomo appointed Mylan Denerstein, his former counsel who is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Cutcher, and state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs of Long Island; Heastie appointed Rosanna Vargas, a former elections commissioner in the city Board of Elections, and Crystal Rodriguez, former chief diversity officer for the City of Buffalo, who is now chief of staff in the Buffalo State College president’s office; and Stewart-Cousins appointed DeNora Getachew, executive director of Generation Citizen in New York City and former legislative counsel to Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and Westchester County Attorney John Nonna. The at-large, joint appointment by the three Democratic leaders went to veteran election lawyer Henry Berger.&nbsp;</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan chose David Previtte, former chief counsel to the previous Republican state Senate majority, to serve on the commission; and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb appointed Kimberly Galvin, his former chief of staff and current co-director of the state Board of Elections’ Campaign Finance Compliance Unit.</p> <p>In a statement and at a press conference Monday, newly-elected state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy of Erie County criticized the governor for using one of two direct appointments to place Jacobs on the commission. “This is an egregious conflict of interest that is another attempt to legalize rigged elections and elect Democrats, not root out corruption,” Langworthy said. Neither Republican minority leader selected Langworthy to join the commission, though Langworthy <a href="https://twitter.com/bern_hogan/status/1148302561507774465">reportedly</a> said that if asked he would not have accepted.</p> <p>The legislation establishing the commission authorizes the state to disperse up to $100 million annually in public funds. Public matching funds programs encourage candidates to seek small contributions by matching each contribution below a certain amount. In order to receive public funds, candidates must voluntarily adhere to limits on political fundraising and campaign spending, and are generally subject to stricter reporting requirements and auditing.</p> <p>Municipalities around the country have implemented public matching programs with varying matches and limits. New York City has one of the oldest and most generous programs in the country, with the city matching small contributions at eight to one (in November, voters chose to expand the city’s program via ballot referendum). In March, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the For the People Act, an omnibus election reform bill that included a federal small-dollar public financing system. The bill has been introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate, but has not advanced.</p> <p>All eyes are now on New York’s commission, which advocates hope will take advantage of the opportunity to implement real, long-sought reforms.</p> <p>“If the Commission listens to the experts who have looked at this issue over the decades, they will implement a robust matching system that offers at least six dollars in matching funds for every small dollar raised in primaries and general elections, lowers contribution limits and restores New Yorkers faith in democracy,” the Fair Elections for New York coalition, made up of dozens of advocacy groups and labor unions, wrote in a statement after last week’s announcement. “If the Commission does not listen to these experts, the Legislature must step in and use its power to ‘amend or abrogate’ the Commission’s recommendations.”</p> <p>Eleven states have some form of public financing, according to the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/public-financing-of-campaigns-overview.aspx">National Conference of State Legislators</a> website, but none as big as New York. In a <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/new-york-state-budget-mandates-public-financing-elections">blog post</a> published on its website on July 3, the Brennan Center wrote that creating a small donor public financing system in New York “would mark the most significant campaign finance reform in the United States since the 2010 Citizens United ruling.”</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rep-dem-unaff-indie-voters/fairelectionsny.jpg" alt="fairelectionsny" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: @FairElectionsNY)</p> <hr /> <p>As New Yorkers geared up for the holiday weekend last week, state government leaders announced appointments to a new commission with the lofty task of establishing a statewide public campaign financing system.</p> <p>The body is seen by many as an opportunity to reduce the influence of wealthy donors on state politics by creating a small-dollar matching program that would amplify the impact of contributions made by average residents, in the vein of what exists in New York City.</p> <p>Established during budget negotiations earlier this year, the Public Campaign Finance Commission is mandated to create a voluntary system for statewide and state legislative candidates to receive public matching funds in exchange for meeting certain fundraising and spending criteria.</p> <p>The commission is responsible for issuing a report with recommendations by December 1 and holding a public hearing on its findings. The recommendations become binding if lawmakers, who will be out of session, don’t act to modify them within 20 days of their release.</p> <p>On July 3, the governor and legislative leaders revealed their appointees to the nine-member commission, which set off fanfare and a measure of caution from advocates, three months after it was created by law.</p> <p>“The law charges the commissioners named today with a historic task: design a public financing system that incentivizes candidates to seek more small donations. If they do it right, their system they create will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in Albany,” wrote Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, in a statement after the announcement. “If the commissioners do it wrong, their system will fail, and Albany’s status quo will remain.”</p> <p>Doing it “right,” according to Norden and the Brennan Center, as well as many other advocates, means having a large public match in both primary and general elections, low qualifying thresholds, and low contribution limits for individuals, all of which they believe encourages candidates to rely on many small contributions rather than a few large ones.</p> <p>A Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/new-yorks-wealthiest-played-outsized-role-funding-2018-campaigns">analysis</a> released in December found that 100 individual donors contributed more to state candidates than all of the roughly 137,000 small donors combined in the 2018 election cycle. Reformers view this outsized impact as a threat to democratic processes.</p> <p>“New York’s electoral system is in desperate need of reform. Dark money routinely pours in to control public opinion, misinform voters, and benefit special interests,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, wrote in a statement accompanying appointments to the commission, which also cited related accomplishments from earlier this year, like “closing the LLC loophole” and confidence that the commission will design a system to make New York elections “fairer.”</p> <p>The creation of a commission to study and establish public campaign financing in New York State is part of a concerted effort by reformers, both inside and outside government, to limit the role of money in politics. That push took on new meaning after the U.S. Supreme Court authorized virtually unlimited political spending under the First Amendment in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which unleashed the Super PAC era.</p> <p>The effort gained new steam this year when Democrats took control of the state Senate and thus both houses of the state Legislature under a Democratic governor who has publicly supported state-level campaign financing for years.</p> <p>When the commission was first announced in April, advocates called for appointments to be independent of the powers that choose them and representative of the state’s diverse constituencies, upstate and downstate.</p> <p>A majority of the commission’s appointments come from Albany’s Democratic leadership with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Stewart-Cousins each choosing two commissioners, with another appointed jointly by all three. The remaining two commissioners are appointed by minority leaders of the legislative houses.</p> <p>Last Wednesday, Cuomo appointed Mylan Denerstein, his former counsel who is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Cutcher, and state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs of Long Island; Heastie appointed Rosanna Vargas, a former elections commissioner in the city Board of Elections, and Crystal Rodriguez, former chief diversity officer for the City of Buffalo, who is now chief of staff in the Buffalo State College president’s office; and Stewart-Cousins appointed DeNora Getachew, executive director of Generation Citizen in New York City and former legislative counsel to Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and Westchester County Attorney John Nonna. The at-large, joint appointment by the three Democratic leaders went to veteran election lawyer Henry Berger.&nbsp;</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan chose David Previtte, former chief counsel to the previous Republican state Senate majority, to serve on the commission; and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb appointed Kimberly Galvin, his former chief of staff and current co-director of the state Board of Elections’ Campaign Finance Compliance Unit.</p> <p>In a statement and at a press conference Monday, newly-elected state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy of Erie County criticized the governor for using one of two direct appointments to place Jacobs on the commission. “This is an egregious conflict of interest that is another attempt to legalize rigged elections and elect Democrats, not root out corruption,” Langworthy said. Neither Republican minority leader selected Langworthy to join the commission, though Langworthy <a href="https://twitter.com/bern_hogan/status/1148302561507774465">reportedly</a> said that if asked he would not have accepted.</p> <p>The legislation establishing the commission authorizes the state to disperse up to $100 million annually in public funds. Public matching funds programs encourage candidates to seek small contributions by matching each contribution below a certain amount. In order to receive public funds, candidates must voluntarily adhere to limits on political fundraising and campaign spending, and are generally subject to stricter reporting requirements and auditing.</p> <p>Municipalities around the country have implemented public matching programs with varying matches and limits. New York City has one of the oldest and most generous programs in the country, with the city matching small contributions at eight to one (in November, voters chose to expand the city’s program via ballot referendum). In March, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the For the People Act, an omnibus election reform bill that included a federal small-dollar public financing system. The bill has been introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate, but has not advanced.</p> <p>All eyes are now on New York’s commission, which advocates hope will take advantage of the opportunity to implement real, long-sought reforms.</p> <p>“If the Commission listens to the experts who have looked at this issue over the decades, they will implement a robust matching system that offers at least six dollars in matching funds for every small dollar raised in primaries and general elections, lowers contribution limits and restores New Yorkers faith in democracy,” the Fair Elections for New York coalition, made up of dozens of advocacy groups and labor unions, wrote in a statement after last week’s announcement. “If the Commission does not listen to these experts, the Legislature must step in and use its power to ‘amend or abrogate’ the Commission’s recommendations.”</p> <p>Eleven states have some form of public financing, according to the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/public-financing-of-campaigns-overview.aspx">National Conference of State Legislators</a> website, but none as big as New York. In a <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/new-york-state-budget-mandates-public-financing-elections">blog post</a> published on its website on July 3, the Brennan Center wrote that creating a small donor public financing system in New York “would mark the most significant campaign finance reform in the United States since the 2010 Citizens United ruling.”</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Council Hears 3 Campaign Finance Bills to Enhance Low-Dollar Impact, Limit Criminals, Curb Conflicts 2019-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8624-city-council-campaign-finance-reform-enhance-low-dollar-impact-curb-conflicts Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-comm-hearing.jpg" alt="council comm hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Keith Powers (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing Wednesday to discuss three bills related to campaign finance reform. Two of the bills would prohibit candidates convicted of felony corruption or misuse of public funds from receiving public matching funds and reduce the matching funds contribution minimum from $10 to $5. They are sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Keith Powers, respectively. Cabrera is the chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>The third bill, also sponsored by Powers, would amend the definition of “business dealing with the city” to include an earlier trigger in the land use review process. That bill would make those entities with uncertified applications under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and zoning text amendments part of the “doing business” database that severely limits what they can give to political candidates, with the goal of decreasing the influence of large real estate contributions in elections and the opportunity for pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>The hearing included testimony from representatives of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which runs the city’s public matching system and trains, monitors, and audits campaigns; and Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. Each of the bills is based upon recommendations filed by the CFB in its 2017 post-election report.</p> <p><strong>Prohibition of Funds for Felons</strong><br />Currently, the campaign finance act prohibits candidates from receiving public funds if they have been convicted of felony fraud in the course of program participation. It does not prevent candidates convicted of fraud or corruption more broadly from receiving public funds.</p> <p>In 2017, a candidate participating in the city’s matching system, Hiram Monserrate, who received public funds had previously served 21 months in prison for using government funds to pay campaign staff.</p> <p>“Ensuring individuals with a track record of fraud do not receive public funds is not only good public policy but is fundamental to the integrity of the matching funds program,” CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>While supportive of the bill, Loprest suggested that the Council could do more to ensure that public funds are not given to those who have a track record of misusing them. She encouraged the Council members to extend the bill to cover misdemeanors related to corruption, and to specify the language of the bill to explicitly tie previous crimes to an individual’s actions as a candidate or office-holder.</p> <p>Loprest also suggested that the committee implement sunset clauses of five years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies, after which a candidate would again be able to receive matching funds.</p> <p><strong>Lowering of Matching Funds Contribution form $10 to $5</strong><br />To qualify for the city’s public financing program, candidates must meet a two-part fundraising threshold. Depending on the office sought, candidates must receive a certain number of contributions of at least $10. This bill would lower the requirement to qualify for the threshold from $10 to $5.</p> <p>Currently, all contributions are eligible for public matching, but contributions under $10 do not count towards meeting the threshold to receive public funds. Critics of the current system argue that a minimum contribution of $10 can impose too significant a burden on New Yorkers from economically-disadvantaged areas of the city. For candidates seeking to represent these areas in local elections, achieving the minimum number of contributions to reach the threshold can be a challenge exacerbated by the high minimum.</p> <p>The campaign finance board discussed lowering the minimum to $1, but determined that $5 was “a balance between showing serious support and the financial burden from people from certain districts,” Loprest said at the hearing. The city typically encounters few $1 contributions, she said.</p> <p>During the 2017 election cycle, just 186 contributions to Council candidates, or 0.72 percent, were under $10, and 30 contributions, or 0.12 percent, were under $5, according to a review by Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>“Lowering the amount to $5 would allow more residents to participate in helping their favored candidates qualify for matching funds, and more candidates would be able to meet the threshold sooner in the election year,” Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>“For large-scale elections in the city it would be an easier way to encourage people to get into the matching funds program,” Council Member Powers said of his bill.</p> <p><strong>Amending the Definition of “Business Dealings”</strong><br />The third bill discussed would place limits on contributions to candidates running for office from persons with “business dealings” with the city.</p> <p>Included in “business dealings” is applications for approval under ULURP and applications for zoning text amendments, but currently only after the City Planning Commission has certified an application as complete. Often, these applications are filed months or years before they are certified by the City Planning Commission. Those who file applications can thus make maximum contributions after filing their application for land use changes but before it is certified, providing more opportunity for a pay-to-play culture and undue influence, or at least the appearance of it.</p> <p>Persons seeking land use approvals made up less than 1% of individuals doing business with the city during 2017 election cycle, but they were significantly more likely to make campaign contributions. Nearly 20% of those seeking land use contributions made contributions to candidates during the cycle, according to the CFB. Currently, there are 87 ULURP and land use applications in the city that remain uncertified, according to the CFB.</p> <p>Amending the definition of “business dealings” will allow the city to include those who have filed an application but have not yet been certified by the City Planning Commission to hold them to the same standard as those who have already been certified. Maximum contributions to candidates vary based on the office sought, as do the much lower doing business limits. For example, the maximum donation someone on the doing business list can give to a candidate for mayor is $400.</p> <p>Including applications that are not yet certified in “business dealings” is “an effective way to ensure that the matching funds program is doing everything it can to curb both corruption and the appearance of corruption,” Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>In all other “business dealings,” with the city, people are compiled into and remain in the city’s doing business database for one year after the end of the transaction. This management system allows the campaign finance board to determine if a contribution is within the applicable limit. Loprest testified that land use application under the ULURP coverage period should also remain in the database for one year.</p> <p>“If we’re going to have a system where we limit contributions for those doing business we should limit contributions when those business discussions begin,” Powers said at the hearing.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-comm-hearing.jpg" alt="council comm hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Keith Powers (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing Wednesday to discuss three bills related to campaign finance reform. Two of the bills would prohibit candidates convicted of felony corruption or misuse of public funds from receiving public matching funds and reduce the matching funds contribution minimum from $10 to $5. They are sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Keith Powers, respectively. Cabrera is the chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>The third bill, also sponsored by Powers, would amend the definition of “business dealing with the city” to include an earlier trigger in the land use review process. That bill would make those entities with uncertified applications under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and zoning text amendments part of the “doing business” database that severely limits what they can give to political candidates, with the goal of decreasing the influence of large real estate contributions in elections and the opportunity for pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>The hearing included testimony from representatives of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which runs the city’s public matching system and trains, monitors, and audits campaigns; and Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. Each of the bills is based upon recommendations filed by the CFB in its 2017 post-election report.</p> <p><strong>Prohibition of Funds for Felons</strong><br />Currently, the campaign finance act prohibits candidates from receiving public funds if they have been convicted of felony fraud in the course of program participation. It does not prevent candidates convicted of fraud or corruption more broadly from receiving public funds.</p> <p>In 2017, a candidate participating in the city’s matching system, Hiram Monserrate, who received public funds had previously served 21 months in prison for using government funds to pay campaign staff.</p> <p>“Ensuring individuals with a track record of fraud do not receive public funds is not only good public policy but is fundamental to the integrity of the matching funds program,” CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>While supportive of the bill, Loprest suggested that the Council could do more to ensure that public funds are not given to those who have a track record of misusing them. She encouraged the Council members to extend the bill to cover misdemeanors related to corruption, and to specify the language of the bill to explicitly tie previous crimes to an individual’s actions as a candidate or office-holder.</p> <p>Loprest also suggested that the committee implement sunset clauses of five years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies, after which a candidate would again be able to receive matching funds.</p> <p><strong>Lowering of Matching Funds Contribution form $10 to $5</strong><br />To qualify for the city’s public financing program, candidates must meet a two-part fundraising threshold. Depending on the office sought, candidates must receive a certain number of contributions of at least $10. This bill would lower the requirement to qualify for the threshold from $10 to $5.</p> <p>Currently, all contributions are eligible for public matching, but contributions under $10 do not count towards meeting the threshold to receive public funds. Critics of the current system argue that a minimum contribution of $10 can impose too significant a burden on New Yorkers from economically-disadvantaged areas of the city. For candidates seeking to represent these areas in local elections, achieving the minimum number of contributions to reach the threshold can be a challenge exacerbated by the high minimum.</p> <p>The campaign finance board discussed lowering the minimum to $1, but determined that $5 was “a balance between showing serious support and the financial burden from people from certain districts,” Loprest said at the hearing. The city typically encounters few $1 contributions, she said.</p> <p>During the 2017 election cycle, just 186 contributions to Council candidates, or 0.72 percent, were under $10, and 30 contributions, or 0.12 percent, were under $5, according to a review by Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>“Lowering the amount to $5 would allow more residents to participate in helping their favored candidates qualify for matching funds, and more candidates would be able to meet the threshold sooner in the election year,” Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>“For large-scale elections in the city it would be an easier way to encourage people to get into the matching funds program,” Council Member Powers said of his bill.</p> <p><strong>Amending the Definition of “Business Dealings”</strong><br />The third bill discussed would place limits on contributions to candidates running for office from persons with “business dealings” with the city.</p> <p>Included in “business dealings” is applications for approval under ULURP and applications for zoning text amendments, but currently only after the City Planning Commission has certified an application as complete. Often, these applications are filed months or years before they are certified by the City Planning Commission. Those who file applications can thus make maximum contributions after filing their application for land use changes but before it is certified, providing more opportunity for a pay-to-play culture and undue influence, or at least the appearance of it.</p> <p>Persons seeking land use approvals made up less than 1% of individuals doing business with the city during 2017 election cycle, but they were significantly more likely to make campaign contributions. Nearly 20% of those seeking land use contributions made contributions to candidates during the cycle, according to the CFB. Currently, there are 87 ULURP and land use applications in the city that remain uncertified, according to the CFB.</p> <p>Amending the definition of “business dealings” will allow the city to include those who have filed an application but have not yet been certified by the City Planning Commission to hold them to the same standard as those who have already been certified. Maximum contributions to candidates vary based on the office sought, as do the much lower doing business limits. For example, the maximum donation someone on the doing business list can give to a candidate for mayor is $400.</p> <p>Including applications that are not yet certified in “business dealings” is “an effective way to ensure that the matching funds program is doing everything it can to curb both corruption and the appearance of corruption,” Loprest said at the hearing.</p> <p>In all other “business dealings,” with the city, people are compiled into and remain in the city’s doing business database for one year after the end of the transaction. This management system allows the campaign finance board to determine if a contribution is within the applicable limit. Loprest testified that land use application under the ULURP coverage period should also remain in the database for one year.</p> <p>“If we’re going to have a system where we limit contributions for those doing business we should limit contributions when those business discussions begin,” Powers said at the hearing.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race 2019-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8601-council-passes-campaign-finance-bill-roiling-early-mayoral-race Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/48057358031_112fab51c7_z.jpg" alt="Johnson Kallos City Council" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>Council Members Kallos, left, &amp; Rodriguez, right, with Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council passed a much-anticipated, controversial campaign finance bill Thursday, raising the cap on how much public funding a campaign can receive and altering other dynamics of the city’s matching system. The bill -- the source of significant consternation over the past several days, particularly among likely 2021 mayoral candidates - passed by a vote of 41-6, with one abstention, and three absences.</p> <p>The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio has indicated support for, increases the public matching funds ceiling so that campaigns are able to raise only smaller donations and still have enough money to hit their spending limit. It also has a retroactivity component, a bill change within just the past 10 days, that caused a stir and appears likely to impact several upcoming races, including the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.</p> <p>That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.</p> <p>Johnson, who pledged in January not to take any donations larger than $250 as he explores a mayoral run, said he has long supported the legislation and it has nothing to do with the race. He and Kallos also pointed out that the retroactivity component was discussed during an April hearing on the bill and recommended by the Campaign Finance Board so that an entire four-year election cycle would be run by the same rules, for whichever of the two programs candidates choose.</p> <p>Still, neither Kallos nor Johnson had a clear answer for why the amendment to the bill had come so close to the Council’s votes on the matter.</p> <p>Johnson noted the difficulty in creating legislation that affects lawmakers themselves.</p> <p>“It’s hard to vote on these things because every time you do you’re potentially affecting yourself and your colleagues in what you do. It’s one of the challenging things you deal with as a current elected official when you start to look at the system that exists and you seek to improve it or change it,” Johnson said.</p> <p>“For the current election cycle, just like we did for public advocate, when no one criticized it, you need to pick option A or option B,” Johnson said at the press conference. “No one is being forced to opt into the 8-to-1 [matching] system. We are just saying if you are going to opt into one system, be consistent throughout the entire cycle,” Johnson said.</p> <p>If Stringer or others opt into the new system, they would receive its 8-to-1 match on all qualifying donations $250 or under, but under maximum individual donations of $2,000 (down from $5,100 for citywide candidates), and they would, based on the new Council bill, have to return the difference on any donations above the new maximum. That last aspect is what has driven Stringer and others to call Johnson out.</p> <p>Others have criticized the bill for using more taxpayer money.</p> <p>“I’m not sure how we look a homeless person in the eye and tell them we can’t find them an affordable place to live but don’t worry we have money for our next campaign mailing,” Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on the Council floor before the vote. He voted no, as he had done in committee on Tuesday.</p> <p>Supporters of the bill pointed out it’s potential to decrease the power of special interests and large donors in politics.</p> <p>“I can’t believe we’re standing here having an argument over how much big money people should get to take after the voters said they want politicians to get less big money,” Kallos said at the press conference.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me ‘I don’t want my dollars matched.’ The public match is increasing participation and the taxpayers, the residents actually like it. They like having their voices amplified and direct access to elected officials that they otherwise wouldn’t,” Kallos added.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of cynicism in government because people feel like big donors have too much access in government, and here’s a way to take big money out and have it be publicly financed,” Johnson said at the press conference.</p> <p>Representatives for Stringer, who would likely have to return the most money under the new system, if he sticks with the program of lower donation limits and higher matching, called Johnson amending the legislation and pushing it through a “brazen power grab” and using his government position to advantage his campaign.</p> <p>“Johnson is rushing through a law that explicitly benefits him,” wrote Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens <a href="https://twitter.com/TyroneCStevens/status/1139232108726161408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Twitter</a>. “It’s deeply unethical and it’s not good government. Shame on him.”</p> <p>"I’m a firm believer you don’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Adams <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8597-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams-jail-budget-politics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Max &amp; Murphy podcast on Wednesday</a>, “...any major changes in the system should not be beneficial to any party involved. And I think that’s part of what Scott Stringer was saying." Adams said he wasn’t yet sure which of the two campaign finance programs he’ll choose.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Diaz Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>At the Council on Thursday, among those voting no was Yeger, who sits on the Committee on Governmental Operations, which first heard and passed the bill, sending it to the full Council. Joining Yeger in opposition were Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Ruben Diaz, Sr., both Bronx Democrats, and the Council’s three Republicans: Council Members Eric Ulrich, Steven Matteo, and Joseph Borelli.</p> <p>Council Member I. Daneek Miller was the sole abstention. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was absent for the committee vote on Tuesday, was also absent for the vote by the Council, despite having been present during the press conference preceding the full Council meeting.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/48057358031_112fab51c7_z.jpg" alt="Johnson Kallos City Council" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>Council Members Kallos, left, &amp; Rodriguez, right, with Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council passed a much-anticipated, controversial campaign finance bill Thursday, raising the cap on how much public funding a campaign can receive and altering other dynamics of the city’s matching system. The bill -- the source of significant consternation over the past several days, particularly among likely 2021 mayoral candidates - passed by a vote of 41-6, with one abstention, and three absences.</p> <p>The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio has indicated support for, increases the public matching funds ceiling so that campaigns are able to raise only smaller donations and still have enough money to hit their spending limit. It also has a retroactivity component, a bill change within just the past 10 days, that caused a stir and appears likely to impact several upcoming races, including the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.</p> <p>That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.</p> <p>Johnson, who pledged in January not to take any donations larger than $250 as he explores a mayoral run, said he has long supported the legislation and it has nothing to do with the race. He and Kallos also pointed out that the retroactivity component was discussed during an April hearing on the bill and recommended by the Campaign Finance Board so that an entire four-year election cycle would be run by the same rules, for whichever of the two programs candidates choose.</p> <p>Still, neither Kallos nor Johnson had a clear answer for why the amendment to the bill had come so close to the Council’s votes on the matter.</p> <p>Johnson noted the difficulty in creating legislation that affects lawmakers themselves.</p> <p>“It’s hard to vote on these things because every time you do you’re potentially affecting yourself and your colleagues in what you do. It’s one of the challenging things you deal with as a current elected official when you start to look at the system that exists and you seek to improve it or change it,” Johnson said.</p> <p>“For the current election cycle, just like we did for public advocate, when no one criticized it, you need to pick option A or option B,” Johnson said at the press conference. “No one is being forced to opt into the 8-to-1 [matching] system. We are just saying if you are going to opt into one system, be consistent throughout the entire cycle,” Johnson said.</p> <p>If Stringer or others opt into the new system, they would receive its 8-to-1 match on all qualifying donations $250 or under, but under maximum individual donations of $2,000 (down from $5,100 for citywide candidates), and they would, based on the new Council bill, have to return the difference on any donations above the new maximum. That last aspect is what has driven Stringer and others to call Johnson out.</p> <p>Others have criticized the bill for using more taxpayer money.</p> <p>“I’m not sure how we look a homeless person in the eye and tell them we can’t find them an affordable place to live but don’t worry we have money for our next campaign mailing,” Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on the Council floor before the vote. He voted no, as he had done in committee on Tuesday.</p> <p>Supporters of the bill pointed out it’s potential to decrease the power of special interests and large donors in politics.</p> <p>“I can’t believe we’re standing here having an argument over how much big money people should get to take after the voters said they want politicians to get less big money,” Kallos said at the press conference.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me ‘I don’t want my dollars matched.’ The public match is increasing participation and the taxpayers, the residents actually like it. They like having their voices amplified and direct access to elected officials that they otherwise wouldn’t,” Kallos added.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of cynicism in government because people feel like big donors have too much access in government, and here’s a way to take big money out and have it be publicly financed,” Johnson said at the press conference.</p> <p>Representatives for Stringer, who would likely have to return the most money under the new system, if he sticks with the program of lower donation limits and higher matching, called Johnson amending the legislation and pushing it through a “brazen power grab” and using his government position to advantage his campaign.</p> <p>“Johnson is rushing through a law that explicitly benefits him,” wrote Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens <a href="https://twitter.com/TyroneCStevens/status/1139232108726161408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Twitter</a>. “It’s deeply unethical and it’s not good government. Shame on him.”</p> <p>"I’m a firm believer you don’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Adams <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8597-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams-jail-budget-politics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Max &amp; Murphy podcast on Wednesday</a>, “...any major changes in the system should not be beneficial to any party involved. And I think that’s part of what Scott Stringer was saying." Adams said he wasn’t yet sure which of the two campaign finance programs he’ll choose.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Diaz Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>At the Council on Thursday, among those voting no was Yeger, who sits on the Committee on Governmental Operations, which first heard and passed the bill, sending it to the full Council. Joining Yeger in opposition were Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Ruben Diaz, Sr., both Bronx Democrats, and the Council’s three Republicans: Council Members Eric Ulrich, Steven Matteo, and Joseph Borelli.</p> <p>Council Member I. Daneek Miller was the sole abstention. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was absent for the committee vote on Tuesday, was also absent for the vote by the Council, despite having been present during the press conference preceding the full Council meeting.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
Amid Controversy, City Council Moves Ahead with Campaign Finance Bill Extending Public Match 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8593-amid-controversy-council-moves-ahead-with-campaign-finance-bill-extending-public-match Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/committee-gov-op.jpg" alt="committee gov op" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p>Council Members Yeger, left, and Cabrera, right (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Significantly more public funding of political campaigns appears on the way given legislation that the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations passed on Tuesday.</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, aims to prevent corruption and increase engagement with local communities by adjusting the public matching funds system to allow candidates to raise only relatively small donations and receive enough public money to reach the spending limit in their race.</p> <p>Though the bill has over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council and passed the committee 4-1 on Tuesday, a last-minute amendment to the legislation caused a significant stir, including accusations of impropriety by Comptroller Scott Stringer against City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both likely mayoral candidates in the next election.</p> <p>Expected to be passed by the full Council on Thursday, the bill lifts the cap on how much public funding – or taxpayer money – a participating campaign can receive from Campaign Finance Board. The cap, currently set at 75 percent of the spending limit for participating candidates, would rise to 89.9%, effectively making it a full match relative to the spending limit when the private funds involved are also taken into consideration.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system currently has two tracks, “Option A” and “Option B,” that only apply to the 2021 election cycle, before the newer of the two programs takes full hold. That program, “Option A,” includes lower individual donation thresholds and matches the first $250 of individual contributions at an 8-to-1 ratio for a maximum disbursement of $2,000 in public funds per contribution.</p> <p>These rules are the result of a November 2018 referendum that both raised the disbursement cap and increased the public matching ratio. But it also left in place the old system, which has much higher contribution limits and matches the first $175 of donations at 6-to-1.</p> <p>Different offices, from citywide posts like mayor and comptroller to borough presidencies to City Council seats, have different donation and spending limits.</p> <p>The change to individual contribution limits in Option A dropped the maximum donation limit from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates who opt into that program.</p> <p>Related to that new donation cap, an amendment to the legislation being passed this week has caused a rift among mayoral candidates and raised eyebrows around city government.</p> <p>The amendment requires candidates who opt into the new system to return contributions from 2018 that go over the new maximums, which could mean a $3,100 return on each maximum donation for participants.</p> <p>The November referendum allowed candidates participating in the system to choose between the new rules – with the higher public match but lower contribution limits – and the old rules until 2022, when candidates will have to conform entirely to the new rules to receive public funds. The 2021 city elections are expected to be highly competitive, crowded affairs, with almost all city seats open due to term limits.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, one of several likely mayoral candidates in the upcoming election, would be particularly impacted by the amendment. He’d have to return many thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the past year if he wanted to opt into the new matching system. As first reported by the Daily News, Stringer viewed this amendment as a “brazen power grab” by fellow mayoral candidate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“The voters passed a groundbreaking campaign finance system to clean up government, not corrupt it,” a Stringer spokesperson said. “Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself. The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson reiterated that it’s optional for candidates to return their contributions and said that the amendment was created at the recommendation of the CFB.</p> <p>“The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency,” Jennifer Femino, a spokesperson for Johnson, said. “That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos stressed to Gotham Gazette that not only did the CFB recommend retroactivity because it would then make administration of the program easier, but that Kallos led an extended conversation on changing the bill to include retroactivity during the initial April hearing on the legislation. The amendment wasn’t made until just days before the committee vote, however.</p> <p>On Tuesday, governmental operations committee member, Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat, referenced the Stringer-Johnson rift during the hearing, though he didn’t name either of them. He said he was “certainly sensitive to the concerns that have been raised amongst those who are current candidates that feel this bill has a negative impact on them,” but remained supportive of the bill and voted yes.</p> <p>There was opposition to the bill at the hearing, from City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said it disregards what the voters decided with the 2018 referendum and amounts to little besides another big dip into taxpayers’ pockets.</p> <p>“It doesn’t seem to me that when the voters voted in November, they put an asterisk next to their vote and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re voting for, but just in case you get a chance, take some more money out of our pockets and do this a little better,’” Yeger said. “I don’t think we got that message. I didn’t get that message, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, there was a yes/no question, and the yes won.”</p> <p>Yeger was the sole no in the 4-1 vote, with Council Members Kallos, Powers, Alan Maisel, and committee chair Fernando Cabrera voting to approve. Two committee members were absent from the vote: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Bill Perkins.</p> <p>The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote on Thursday. If it passes there, it will go to Mayor Bill de Blasio for likely approval.</p> <p>

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/committee-gov-op.jpg" alt="committee gov op" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p>Council Members Yeger, left, and Cabrera, right (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Significantly more public funding of political campaigns appears on the way given legislation that the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations passed on Tuesday.</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, aims to prevent corruption and increase engagement with local communities by adjusting the public matching funds system to allow candidates to raise only relatively small donations and receive enough public money to reach the spending limit in their race.</p> <p>Though the bill has over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council and passed the committee 4-1 on Tuesday, a last-minute amendment to the legislation caused a significant stir, including accusations of impropriety by Comptroller Scott Stringer against City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both likely mayoral candidates in the next election.</p> <p>Expected to be passed by the full Council on Thursday, the bill lifts the cap on how much public funding – or taxpayer money – a participating campaign can receive from Campaign Finance Board. The cap, currently set at 75 percent of the spending limit for participating candidates, would rise to 89.9%, effectively making it a full match relative to the spending limit when the private funds involved are also taken into consideration.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system currently has two tracks, “Option A” and “Option B,” that only apply to the 2021 election cycle, before the newer of the two programs takes full hold. That program, “Option A,” includes lower individual donation thresholds and matches the first $250 of individual contributions at an 8-to-1 ratio for a maximum disbursement of $2,000 in public funds per contribution.</p> <p>These rules are the result of a November 2018 referendum that both raised the disbursement cap and increased the public matching ratio. But it also left in place the old system, which has much higher contribution limits and matches the first $175 of donations at 6-to-1.</p> <p>Different offices, from citywide posts like mayor and comptroller to borough presidencies to City Council seats, have different donation and spending limits.</p> <p>The change to individual contribution limits in Option A dropped the maximum donation limit from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates who opt into that program.</p> <p>Related to that new donation cap, an amendment to the legislation being passed this week has caused a rift among mayoral candidates and raised eyebrows around city government.</p> <p>The amendment requires candidates who opt into the new system to return contributions from 2018 that go over the new maximums, which could mean a $3,100 return on each maximum donation for participants.</p> <p>The November referendum allowed candidates participating in the system to choose between the new rules – with the higher public match but lower contribution limits – and the old rules until 2022, when candidates will have to conform entirely to the new rules to receive public funds. The 2021 city elections are expected to be highly competitive, crowded affairs, with almost all city seats open due to term limits.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, one of several likely mayoral candidates in the upcoming election, would be particularly impacted by the amendment. He’d have to return many thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the past year if he wanted to opt into the new matching system. As first reported by the Daily News, Stringer viewed this amendment as a “brazen power grab” by fellow mayoral candidate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“The voters passed a groundbreaking campaign finance system to clean up government, not corrupt it,” a Stringer spokesperson said. “Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself. The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson reiterated that it’s optional for candidates to return their contributions and said that the amendment was created at the recommendation of the CFB.</p> <p>“The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency,” Jennifer Femino, a spokesperson for Johnson, said. “That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos stressed to Gotham Gazette that not only did the CFB recommend retroactivity because it would then make administration of the program easier, but that Kallos led an extended conversation on changing the bill to include retroactivity during the initial April hearing on the legislation. The amendment wasn’t made until just days before the committee vote, however.</p> <p>On Tuesday, governmental operations committee member, Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat, referenced the Stringer-Johnson rift during the hearing, though he didn’t name either of them. He said he was “certainly sensitive to the concerns that have been raised amongst those who are current candidates that feel this bill has a negative impact on them,” but remained supportive of the bill and voted yes.</p> <p>There was opposition to the bill at the hearing, from City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said it disregards what the voters decided with the 2018 referendum and amounts to little besides another big dip into taxpayers’ pockets.</p> <p>“It doesn’t seem to me that when the voters voted in November, they put an asterisk next to their vote and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re voting for, but just in case you get a chance, take some more money out of our pockets and do this a little better,’” Yeger said. “I don’t think we got that message. I didn’t get that message, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, there was a yes/no question, and the yes won.”</p> <p>Yeger was the sole no in the 4-1 vote, with Council Members Kallos, Powers, Alan Maisel, and committee chair Fernando Cabrera voting to approve. Two committee members were absent from the vote: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Bill Perkins.</p> <p>The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote on Thursday. If it passes there, it will go to Mayor Bill de Blasio for likely approval.</p> <p>

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Expected to Pass Bill - with Controversial Amendment - Raising Cap on Public Matching Funds for Campaigns 2019-06-10T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-10T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8591-city-council-expected-to-pass-bill-raising-cap-on-public-matching-funds-for-campaigns Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/15610942274_2c68194eaf_z.jpg" alt="Ben Kallos City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council committee is expected on Tuesday to pass a bill aimed at reducing the influence of large donors on New York City candidates and elections by creating the possibility for candidates to essentially raise all smaller donations and earn enough public matching funds to fully reach the spending limit imposed by the city’s campaign finance program. But the bill, which has recently been amended in a significant way, is stirring controversy as it heads to a vote, with accusations against Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ben Kallos, the bill's lead sponsor, that they are playing political games.</p> <p>If adopted, <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3458224&amp;GUID=D561A4D3-E518-49A9-8D97-D106A9178639&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the bill</a>&nbsp;would lift the cap on the amount of public money a campaign can receive as a percentage of the spending limits on candidates who choose to participate in the matching funds system, which is run by the city's Campaign Finance Board (CFB). If passed as expected on Tuesday by the Council’s governmental operations committee, the bill would then move to a Thursday vote of the full Council, where it would be overwhelmingly likely to pass.</p> <p>The new amendment to the bill, however, poses a potential hiccup in the process. The legislation now requires any political candidate who opts into the new campaign finance system -- with its lower individual donation limits, more generous public matching of small donations, and the potentially higher match threshold that the bill would create -- to return any contributions over the new system's maximum received in 2018. The maximum has dropped from a $5,100 individual contribution to $2,000 for citywide candidates, meaning a $3,100 return on each maximum donation if a candidate decides to opt into the new system.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, a likely mayoral candidate along with Johnson and others, would particularly be impacted by the bill amendment, and his campaign is calling out Johnson and Kallos, as first&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-scott-stringer-corey-johnson-campaign-finance-legislation-20190611-i7vacw6z5jhqtc75fkvzqiekle-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by the Daily News</a>. If Stringer wants to access the new matching system, which is optional for only the current 2021 election cycle, he would have to return many thousands of dollars in contributions he received last year as he built a significant war chest for the upcoming race.</p> <p>"Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself," a Stringer spokesperson said in a statement. "The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>With the vote scheduled for Tuesday's noon committee hearing, it appears unlikely the bill will be derailed.</p> <p>Responding to Stringer's criticism, Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for Johnson said, “The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency. That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>If passed by the full Council, the bill would then be at the mercy of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who would be likely to approve it. If it becomes law, the new thresholds would alter the landscape for the already-underway 2021 city election cycle that is set to feature an estimated 500 candidates for a wide variety of city offices. Most current officeholders from the mayor through the borough presidents and City Council members are term-limited from seeking reelection. Many term-limited officials, including Stringer and Johnson, will be seeking election to higher office.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is among the most robust of its kind and is lauded as a model for regulating campaign spending while promoting competitive elections, regardless of the wealth of candidates. Its signature components include a voluntary public financing program that matches small-dollar contributions; spending limits and restrictions on expenditures for participants; and thorough disclosure requirements and auditing.</p> <p>“This legislation expands the new campaign finance laws overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters on November 6, 2018, from only matching 75% of contributions to matching all of them at 89.89% so that the voices of everyday working New Yorkers are amplified over that of big money and lobbyists,” Kallos said in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to a successful ballot referendum that passed last year to increase matching funds and reduce individual donation limits.</p> <p>The matching system encourages candidates to seek small-dollar contributions and, as a result, reach out to more constituents, rather than soliciting large contributions from the city’s wealthiest political donors who often have or want city business or favors.</p> <p>Supporters say it reduces the risk of corruption and contributes to the diversity of candidates. Through a series of public referenda and legislation since it was established in 1988, the public match has been expanded along with limits on the types of contributions participating candidates can receive and the amounts they can spend. The most recent changes to the program came out of the referendum to revise the City Charter last November.</p> <p>There is currently a cap on the amount of public funds a participant in the city’s program, administered by the Campaign Finance Board, can receive. Caps are set at a percentage of the total spending limit for the different offices, forcing candidates to rely on a mix of public and private dollars, which the CFB believes has important benefits. To the board, striking the right balance with sensitivity to the shifting demands of campaigning in New York is key to the program’s success.</p> <p>“The Program remains strong because of our work with the Council over the years to ensure that it evolves to meet the challenges of an evolving political landscape,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the CFB, before the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations when she testified on an earlier version of the bill in April.</p> <p>Kallos’ bill is sponsored by 31 other Council members in the 51-seat chamber and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It would tip the balance toward a full match and would also codify into the city Campaign Finance Act relevant pieces of the ballot referendum approved by voters last year.</p> <p>Supporters of a full public match argue the system still leaves the city’s rich and powerful with outsized influence, especially in citywide races where candidates rely more on large contributions than candidates for City Council do. “In a system where every small dollar is&nbsp;matched, big money, PAC money, and lobbyist money that is not matched is far less valuable,” reads a press release from Kallos’ office.</p> <p>One concern from the CFB is that increasing the amount of public funds limits the ability of candidates to spend campaign dollars on non-qualified expenditures -- things like childcare, post-election spending, payments in cash, and attorney fees for defending nominating petitions, among others. After an election, candidates must return any unused public funds and have to pay back money used on expenditures if they cannot show they were qualified. (Kallos’ bill, Intro. 732, has been amended since the April hearing to allow expenditures on ballot petition defense to become a qualified use of public funds.)</p> <p>Candidates also have to return funds if they lack serious opposition or “do not end up running serious campaigns,” according to Loprest. For the candidates with the fewest resources -- the campaigns the program is intended to best support -- these liabilities can be discouraging and ultimately crippling.</p> <p>Last year’s referendum, placed on the ballot by the 2018 Charter Revision Commission, resulted in the creation of new program parameters including increasing the public match on qualifying smaller donations from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1 and raising the amount of funds available from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit.</p> <p>The public matching funds program now matches the first $250 of contributions at a ratio of 8:1, meaning an individual contribution of that amount could trigger a disbursement of $2,000 in public funds. It also reduced the amount an individual can contribute from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide races, from $3,950 to $1,500 for borough president races, and $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council races.</p> <p>Another change allowed public funds to be disbursed to candidates earlier in the campaign cycle.</p> <p>For the 2021 elections, participating candidates will have the choice of opting into the new program, known as “Option A,” or sticking with the old rules, “Option B.” After 2021, the new system will become the only option. The choice was created to allow candidates who have already raised money under the old rules to stick with them.</p> <p>The earlier disbursement of public funds can exacerbate the risks associated with unqualified expenditures for candidates who rely too heavily on them, according to Loprest. While making payments earlier in the election cycle allows candidates to be more competitive from the start and provides more time to deal with compliance issues, it can also lead them to spend more money that may need to be returned later, if they or their opponents drop out.</p> <p>Kallos, a Democrat representing parts of the Upper East Side, was the prime sponsor of a law passed in 2016, which dealt with the risks of early disbursement by setting a limit on the payments made before the ballot is finalized. The 2018 charter commission also bars early payments to candidates who could not show they were opposed by a serious candidate.</p> <p>The original version of Kallos’ bill removed that prohibition, raising concerns for the CFB. The new version being considered Tuesday includes a number of changes apparently aimed at addressing those concerns. Financial disclosures would have to be filed prior to early payment dates and candidates would be required to complete a certification of participation in advance of any payment date, Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Candidates receiving funds before the ballot petitioning period would have to be “actively campaigning” in order to make qualified expenditures.</p> <p>“We were pleased to work with the Council in this most recent version of the legislation to address some of the concerns we raised in April,” Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson, told Gotham Gazette by email. Kallos echoed the sentiment, saying that the Council listens to “a lot of testimony” and changed the bill as a result of feedback from the CFB and other experts.</p> <p>Most controversially and at the last minute, the new version of the bill also has language that would make the new rules for Option A -- both the 8-to-1 match and the lower contribution limits -- retroactive to apply to contributions received before the referendum changes went into effect on January 12, 2019. Candidates seeking to benefit from the new higher match would have to return any contributions above the new limits, even if received prior to the law changing.</p> <p>For candidates running for citywide posts, that means $3,100 of every maximum contribution would have to be returned.</p> <p>This could be especially challenging for candidates like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, all of whom have been raising money in planned campaigns for mayor. The fourth expected Democratic mayoral candidate at this point is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who began raising money for a mayoral run earlier this year with a number of self-imposed rules, including not taking any donations above $250. Johnson stands to benefit, comparatively speaking, from the amended version of Kallos’ bill that would make others return thousands of dollars if they opt into the new system.</p> <p>The move that particularly stands to hurt Stringer and help Johnson, is being called a "power grab" and using of government position to impact a political campaign.</p> <p>“If I need to pass a law to get people to do the right thing I'll do it,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette over the phone when asked about the amendment. “If they don't want to participate in the new system, there is nothing saying they have to,” he added.</p> <p>The bill could also of course help Kallos and many of his other Council colleagues who may be seeking higher office like a borough presidency or the comptroller’s seat.</p> <p>Kallos was also the author of a law passed this year that allowed candidates running in the February special election to replace former Public Advocate Letitia James to opt in to the new public matching parameters established in the referendum. For Loprest and the CFB, the election showcased the positive effects already unfolding from the increase in the partial match.</p> <p>“Early data from that special election shows that this new iteration of the Program is working as intended,” she told the committee in April. “The most frequent contribution size across all candidates was just $10, compared to $100 in previous citywide races.”</p> <p>For the bill on the table Tuesday, supporters in the Council are eager for the cap on public funds to be raised further. “We need these reforms now,” wrote Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat from the Bronx who chairs the governmental operations committee, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated, and will continue to be updated as the situation around the bill changes.</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/15610942274_2c68194eaf_z.jpg" alt="Ben Kallos City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council committee is expected on Tuesday to pass a bill aimed at reducing the influence of large donors on New York City candidates and elections by creating the possibility for candidates to essentially raise all smaller donations and earn enough public matching funds to fully reach the spending limit imposed by the city’s campaign finance program. But the bill, which has recently been amended in a significant way, is stirring controversy as it heads to a vote, with accusations against Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ben Kallos, the bill's lead sponsor, that they are playing political games.</p> <p>If adopted, <a href="https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3458224&amp;GUID=D561A4D3-E518-49A9-8D97-D106A9178639&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the bill</a>&nbsp;would lift the cap on the amount of public money a campaign can receive as a percentage of the spending limits on candidates who choose to participate in the matching funds system, which is run by the city's Campaign Finance Board (CFB). If passed as expected on Tuesday by the Council’s governmental operations committee, the bill would then move to a Thursday vote of the full Council, where it would be overwhelmingly likely to pass.</p> <p>The new amendment to the bill, however, poses a potential hiccup in the process. The legislation now requires any political candidate who opts into the new campaign finance system -- with its lower individual donation limits, more generous public matching of small donations, and the potentially higher match threshold that the bill would create -- to return any contributions over the new system's maximum received in 2018. The maximum has dropped from a $5,100 individual contribution to $2,000 for citywide candidates, meaning a $3,100 return on each maximum donation if a candidate decides to opt into the new system.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, a likely mayoral candidate along with Johnson and others, would particularly be impacted by the bill amendment, and his campaign is calling out Johnson and Kallos, as first&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-scott-stringer-corey-johnson-campaign-finance-legislation-20190611-i7vacw6z5jhqtc75fkvzqiekle-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by the Daily News</a>. If Stringer wants to access the new matching system, which is optional for only the current 2021 election cycle, he would have to return many thousands of dollars in contributions he received last year as he built a significant war chest for the upcoming race.</p> <p>"Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself," a Stringer spokesperson said in a statement. "The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>With the vote scheduled for Tuesday's noon committee hearing, it appears unlikely the bill will be derailed.</p> <p>Responding to Stringer's criticism, Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for Johnson said, “The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency. That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>If passed by the full Council, the bill would then be at the mercy of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who would be likely to approve it. If it becomes law, the new thresholds would alter the landscape for the already-underway 2021 city election cycle that is set to feature an estimated 500 candidates for a wide variety of city offices. Most current officeholders from the mayor through the borough presidents and City Council members are term-limited from seeking reelection. Many term-limited officials, including Stringer and Johnson, will be seeking election to higher office.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is among the most robust of its kind and is lauded as a model for regulating campaign spending while promoting competitive elections, regardless of the wealth of candidates. Its signature components include a voluntary public financing program that matches small-dollar contributions; spending limits and restrictions on expenditures for participants; and thorough disclosure requirements and auditing.</p> <p>“This legislation expands the new campaign finance laws overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters on November 6, 2018, from only matching 75% of contributions to matching all of them at 89.89% so that the voices of everyday working New Yorkers are amplified over that of big money and lobbyists,” Kallos said in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to a successful ballot referendum that passed last year to increase matching funds and reduce individual donation limits.</p> <p>The matching system encourages candidates to seek small-dollar contributions and, as a result, reach out to more constituents, rather than soliciting large contributions from the city’s wealthiest political donors who often have or want city business or favors.</p> <p>Supporters say it reduces the risk of corruption and contributes to the diversity of candidates. Through a series of public referenda and legislation since it was established in 1988, the public match has been expanded along with limits on the types of contributions participating candidates can receive and the amounts they can spend. The most recent changes to the program came out of the referendum to revise the City Charter last November.</p> <p>There is currently a cap on the amount of public funds a participant in the city’s program, administered by the Campaign Finance Board, can receive. Caps are set at a percentage of the total spending limit for the different offices, forcing candidates to rely on a mix of public and private dollars, which the CFB believes has important benefits. To the board, striking the right balance with sensitivity to the shifting demands of campaigning in New York is key to the program’s success.</p> <p>“The Program remains strong because of our work with the Council over the years to ensure that it evolves to meet the challenges of an evolving political landscape,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the CFB, before the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations when she testified on an earlier version of the bill in April.</p> <p>Kallos’ bill is sponsored by 31 other Council members in the 51-seat chamber and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It would tip the balance toward a full match and would also codify into the city Campaign Finance Act relevant pieces of the ballot referendum approved by voters last year.</p> <p>Supporters of a full public match argue the system still leaves the city’s rich and powerful with outsized influence, especially in citywide races where candidates rely more on large contributions than candidates for City Council do. “In a system where every small dollar is&nbsp;matched, big money, PAC money, and lobbyist money that is not matched is far less valuable,” reads a press release from Kallos’ office.</p> <p>One concern from the CFB is that increasing the amount of public funds limits the ability of candidates to spend campaign dollars on non-qualified expenditures -- things like childcare, post-election spending, payments in cash, and attorney fees for defending nominating petitions, among others. After an election, candidates must return any unused public funds and have to pay back money used on expenditures if they cannot show they were qualified. (Kallos’ bill, Intro. 732, has been amended since the April hearing to allow expenditures on ballot petition defense to become a qualified use of public funds.)</p> <p>Candidates also have to return funds if they lack serious opposition or “do not end up running serious campaigns,” according to Loprest. For the candidates with the fewest resources -- the campaigns the program is intended to best support -- these liabilities can be discouraging and ultimately crippling.</p> <p>Last year’s referendum, placed on the ballot by the 2018 Charter Revision Commission, resulted in the creation of new program parameters including increasing the public match on qualifying smaller donations from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1 and raising the amount of funds available from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit.</p> <p>The public matching funds program now matches the first $250 of contributions at a ratio of 8:1, meaning an individual contribution of that amount could trigger a disbursement of $2,000 in public funds. It also reduced the amount an individual can contribute from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide races, from $3,950 to $1,500 for borough president races, and $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council races.</p> <p>Another change allowed public funds to be disbursed to candidates earlier in the campaign cycle.</p> <p>For the 2021 elections, participating candidates will have the choice of opting into the new program, known as “Option A,” or sticking with the old rules, “Option B.” After 2021, the new system will become the only option. The choice was created to allow candidates who have already raised money under the old rules to stick with them.</p> <p>The earlier disbursement of public funds can exacerbate the risks associated with unqualified expenditures for candidates who rely too heavily on them, according to Loprest. While making payments earlier in the election cycle allows candidates to be more competitive from the start and provides more time to deal with compliance issues, it can also lead them to spend more money that may need to be returned later, if they or their opponents drop out.</p> <p>Kallos, a Democrat representing parts of the Upper East Side, was the prime sponsor of a law passed in 2016, which dealt with the risks of early disbursement by setting a limit on the payments made before the ballot is finalized. The 2018 charter commission also bars early payments to candidates who could not show they were opposed by a serious candidate.</p> <p>The original version of Kallos’ bill removed that prohibition, raising concerns for the CFB. The new version being considered Tuesday includes a number of changes apparently aimed at addressing those concerns. Financial disclosures would have to be filed prior to early payment dates and candidates would be required to complete a certification of participation in advance of any payment date, Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Candidates receiving funds before the ballot petitioning period would have to be “actively campaigning” in order to make qualified expenditures.</p> <p>“We were pleased to work with the Council in this most recent version of the legislation to address some of the concerns we raised in April,” Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson, told Gotham Gazette by email. Kallos echoed the sentiment, saying that the Council listens to “a lot of testimony” and changed the bill as a result of feedback from the CFB and other experts.</p> <p>Most controversially and at the last minute, the new version of the bill also has language that would make the new rules for Option A -- both the 8-to-1 match and the lower contribution limits -- retroactive to apply to contributions received before the referendum changes went into effect on January 12, 2019. Candidates seeking to benefit from the new higher match would have to return any contributions above the new limits, even if received prior to the law changing.</p> <p>For candidates running for citywide posts, that means $3,100 of every maximum contribution would have to be returned.</p> <p>This could be especially challenging for candidates like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, all of whom have been raising money in planned campaigns for mayor. The fourth expected Democratic mayoral candidate at this point is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who began raising money for a mayoral run earlier this year with a number of self-imposed rules, including not taking any donations above $250. Johnson stands to benefit, comparatively speaking, from the amended version of Kallos’ bill that would make others return thousands of dollars if they opt into the new system.</p> <p>The move that particularly stands to hurt Stringer and help Johnson, is being called a "power grab" and using of government position to impact a political campaign.</p> <p>“If I need to pass a law to get people to do the right thing I'll do it,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette over the phone when asked about the amendment. “If they don't want to participate in the new system, there is nothing saying they have to,” he added.</p> <p>The bill could also of course help Kallos and many of his other Council colleagues who may be seeking higher office like a borough presidency or the comptroller’s seat.</p> <p>Kallos was also the author of a law passed this year that allowed candidates running in the February special election to replace former Public Advocate Letitia James to opt in to the new public matching parameters established in the referendum. For Loprest and the CFB, the election showcased the positive effects already unfolding from the increase in the partial match.</p> <p>“Early data from that special election shows that this new iteration of the Program is working as intended,” she told the committee in April. “The most frequent contribution size across all candidates was just $10, compared to $100 in previous citywide races.”</p> <p>For the bill on the table Tuesday, supporters in the Council are eager for the cap on public funds to be raised further. “We need these reforms now,” wrote Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat from the Bronx who chairs the governmental operations committee, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated, and will continue to be updated as the situation around the bill changes.</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
Our Work on Public Campaign Financing is Not Done 2019-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8564-our-work-on-public-campaign-financing-is-not-done Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/niou_ramos_via_stringer.jpg" alt="Niou Ramos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>the authors: Assemblymember Niou, center, &amp; Senator Ramos, left (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve got a big money problem here in New York, and we hear loud and clear the New Yorkers who are calling for a small donor solution in the form of public financing of elections.</p> <p>Public financing became a top issue in state budget negotiations earlier this year because of public demand. The plan for a commission to now determine the parameters of public financing of elections was placed in a large budget bill in the final hours of budget negotiations, making it nearly impossible to oppose as legislators.</p> <p>But we must introduce and move public financing of elections bills this legislative session -- before it ends June 19 -- to fix, or overturn, a weak commission result. We’re committed to ensuring that we end this year with a strong public financing program in New York, whether via commission, legislation, or a combination of both.</p> <p>It’s important to push this issue ahead and not simply allow the commission to unfold without additional legislation for several reasons.</p> <p>As women of color and as elected leaders representing people from all walks of life, we are here to bring change and shift power away from big donors and to the people of New York.</p> <p>Our elections are currently dominated by a tiny number of big donors. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, just 100 donors outspent all the 137,000 small donors combined last year. It’s time for regular constituents to get their say through a 6-to-1 small donor match, lifting the voices of everyday New Yorkers and fundamentally changing the way politicians fundraise by allowing them to focus on those who may only give $20.</p> <p>Those who oppose reform point to the price tag with a high estimate of $100 million per year (a small fraction of one percent of our state’s budget) as an excuse to avoid changing the status quo. They say we can’t afford it. You know what costs more? Corruption.</p> <p>When elected leaders are forced to spend their time rubbing shoulders with big donors—who tend to be predominantly corporate donors—we end up with expensive, unnecessary, out-of-touch policies that hurt the rest of us. We also shut out people with a desire to serve their communities but without connections to big donors from running for office. These systematic barriers block women and people of color—in particular women of color—from running and winning public office.</p> <p>Following damaging decisions by the Supreme Court that now allow unlimited money into our elections, public financing of elections is the only real way to counter the corrosive influence of super PACs—and we have a chance to show the nation how to get it done.</p> <p>In Connecticut, after a small donor public financing system was put in place, lawmakers <a href="https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.demos.org_sites_default_files_publications_FreshStart-5FPublicFinancingCT-5F0.pdf&amp;d=DwMFAg&amp;c=B73tqXN8Ec0ocRmZHMCntw&amp;r=-sBcg4WCSZHFXOqlFm9pQAIri8N7uOeTQalCIQ_Cyus&amp;m=BTxuFdApiq67zQdt1XFekmbD5_8vRldoSuYxMR3Z-_0&amp;s=VwFQxMwJo6XAS0nO6ckGsixaXUc6lqXaGd98lLJdIMg&amp;e=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">moved forward policies</a> to end corporate giveaways and pushed ahead issues that are meaningful to communities of color and other underrepresented communities.</p> <p>Once public financing was in place, leaders passed mandatory paid sick days, increased the minimum wage, instituted in-state tuition for undocumented students, and helped low-income and working individuals and families by adopting an Earned Income Tax Credit.</p> <p>In another illustrative example, they also ended the practice of returning unclaimed bottle deposits to the beverage industry. The influence of beer and soda distributors long kept this giveaway worth up to $24 million annually in place. Now the money can be redirected to important public programs.</p> <p>To ensure a similar result—a democracy that is not beholden to wealthy special interests and instead is responsive to the needs of constituents—in New York, we must ensure a strong Public Financing and Elections Commission that gets to work soon with diverse and credible commissioners to hold transparent proceedings with ample room for public input.</p> <p>As lawmakers, we have to be prepared for the possibility of a weak commission result. Our responsibility does not end with appointing commissioners. It’s our duty to ensure a strong public financing program, and that means having legislation ready should we need to improve upon the commission’s recommendations.</p> <p>Our mission is clear. We must deliver a strong small donor public financing program by the end of the year to shift power to the people of New York and away from big donors. We’ve come too far to settle for anything less.</p> <p>***<br />State Senator Jessica Ramos represents parts of Queens. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou represents parts of Manhattan. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/jessicaramos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@jessicaramos</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/yuhline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@yuhline</a>.</p> <p>

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/niou_ramos_via_stringer.jpg" alt="Niou Ramos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>the authors: Assemblymember Niou, center, &amp; Senator Ramos, left (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve got a big money problem here in New York, and we hear loud and clear the New Yorkers who are calling for a small donor solution in the form of public financing of elections.</p> <p>Public financing became a top issue in state budget negotiations earlier this year because of public demand. The plan for a commission to now determine the parameters of public financing of elections was placed in a large budget bill in the final hours of budget negotiations, making it nearly impossible to oppose as legislators.</p> <p>But we must introduce and move public financing of elections bills this legislative session -- before it ends June 19 -- to fix, or overturn, a weak commission result. We’re committed to ensuring that we end this year with a strong public financing program in New York, whether via commission, legislation, or a combination of both.</p> <p>It’s important to push this issue ahead and not simply allow the commission to unfold without additional legislation for several reasons.</p> <p>As women of color and as elected leaders representing people from all walks of life, we are here to bring change and shift power away from big donors and to the people of New York.</p> <p>Our elections are currently dominated by a tiny number of big donors. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, just 100 donors outspent all the 137,000 small donors combined last year. It’s time for regular constituents to get their say through a 6-to-1 small donor match, lifting the voices of everyday New Yorkers and fundamentally changing the way politicians fundraise by allowing them to focus on those who may only give $20.</p> <p>Those who oppose reform point to the price tag with a high estimate of $100 million per year (a small fraction of one percent of our state’s budget) as an excuse to avoid changing the status quo. They say we can’t afford it. You know what costs more? Corruption.</p> <p>When elected leaders are forced to spend their time rubbing shoulders with big donors—who tend to be predominantly corporate donors—we end up with expensive, unnecessary, out-of-touch policies that hurt the rest of us. We also shut out people with a desire to serve their communities but without connections to big donors from running for office. These systematic barriers block women and people of color—in particular women of color—from running and winning public office.</p> <p>Following damaging decisions by the Supreme Court that now allow unlimited money into our elections, public financing of elections is the only real way to counter the corrosive influence of super PACs—and we have a chance to show the nation how to get it done.</p> <p>In Connecticut, after a small donor public financing system was put in place, lawmakers <a href="https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.demos.org_sites_default_files_publications_FreshStart-5FPublicFinancingCT-5F0.pdf&amp;d=DwMFAg&amp;c=B73tqXN8Ec0ocRmZHMCntw&amp;r=-sBcg4WCSZHFXOqlFm9pQAIri8N7uOeTQalCIQ_Cyus&amp;m=BTxuFdApiq67zQdt1XFekmbD5_8vRldoSuYxMR3Z-_0&amp;s=VwFQxMwJo6XAS0nO6ckGsixaXUc6lqXaGd98lLJdIMg&amp;e=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">moved forward policies</a> to end corporate giveaways and pushed ahead issues that are meaningful to communities of color and other underrepresented communities.</p> <p>Once public financing was in place, leaders passed mandatory paid sick days, increased the minimum wage, instituted in-state tuition for undocumented students, and helped low-income and working individuals and families by adopting an Earned Income Tax Credit.</p> <p>In another illustrative example, they also ended the practice of returning unclaimed bottle deposits to the beverage industry. The influence of beer and soda distributors long kept this giveaway worth up to $24 million annually in place. Now the money can be redirected to important public programs.</p> <p>To ensure a similar result—a democracy that is not beholden to wealthy special interests and instead is responsive to the needs of constituents—in New York, we must ensure a strong Public Financing and Elections Commission that gets to work soon with diverse and credible commissioners to hold transparent proceedings with ample room for public input.</p> <p>As lawmakers, we have to be prepared for the possibility of a weak commission result. Our responsibility does not end with appointing commissioners. It’s our duty to ensure a strong public financing program, and that means having legislation ready should we need to improve upon the commission’s recommendations.</p> <p>Our mission is clear. We must deliver a strong small donor public financing program by the end of the year to shift power to the people of New York and away from big donors. We’ve come too far to settle for anything less.</p> <p>***<br />State Senator Jessica Ramos represents parts of Queens. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou represents parts of Manhattan. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/jessicaramos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@jessicaramos</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/yuhline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@yuhline</a>.</p> <p>

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New York City Should Give ‘Democracy Dollars’ to Kids 2019-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8523-new-york-city-should-give-democracy-dollars-to-kids Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-cm-arroyo-800.jpg" alt="city council cm arroyo 800" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand wants to give all Americans <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/05/01/us/politics/ap-us-election-2020-kirsten-gillibrand.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Faponline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$600</a> to donate to candidates for office. She believes this will level the campaign finance playing field and ween candidates from the corrupting influence of large donors and corporate PACs.</p> <p>This is a well-meaning reform based on early <a href="https://readsludge.com/2018/11/10/evaluating-the-seattle-democracy-voucher-experiment%EF%BB%BF/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">success </a>of the Democracy Voucher Program in Seattle, Washington, to diversify the pool of donors, yet it misses an important point. By restricting “Democracy Dollars” to eligible voters, one of our most important constituencies is again left out: young people.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/17/5-facts-about-u-s-political-donations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pew </a>Research Center, the pool of donors is as biased toward older voters as it is toward the wealthy and highly educated. A third of those over the age of 65 report giving a campaign donation compared to less than 10% of those 18-29 years old. In Seattle, <a href="https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/EthicsElections/DemocracyVoucher/DVP%20Evaluation%20Final%20Report%20April%2025%202018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">older voters</a> are much more likely to use a Democracy Voucher than younger voters, and minors are not even eligible.</p> <p>Is it any wonder that New York City classrooms are crumbling and segregation continues to plague our schools? On issues that are most likely to affect young people in the future -- from quality schools to climate change to the ballooning federal debt -- lawmakers remain unable to find long-term solutions.</p> <p>This is in part because the political voice of young people is muffled until they become eligible to vote at age 18, and after due to low voter turnout. As former Mayor <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/22/nyregion/new-york-s-immigrants-aren-t-rushing-to-politics.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ed Koch</a> famously quipped, “You don’t vote, you don’t count.”</p> <p>Interestingly, federal law does not bar young people from making campaign contributions. In 2005, the <a href="https://transition.fec.gov/law/litigation/McConnell.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">U.S. Supreme Court</a> found restrictions on campaign donations from minors unconstitutional. And <a href="https://www.participatorybudgeting.org/participatory-budgeting-in-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Participatory Budgeting</a> in New York City is already open to everyone over the age of 11.</p> <p>This opens a window of opportunity for the city to continue to innovate in the area of equitable campaign finance. While the city’s existing <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/candidate_services/Handbook_2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Matching Funds Program</a> does not match donations from minors, a new “Democracy Voucher Program for the Future” targeted at high school students could empower the leaders of the city in the decades to come.</p> <p>Similar to Senator Gillibrand’s proposal, the approximately 400,000 students attending public and private New York City high schools would receive $5 vouchers that they could donate to eligible candidates for office. If students were each allotted two vouchers, this would generate a pool of up to $4 million.</p> <p>This new program would potentially re-orient campaigns toward a newly powerful class of donors. Candidates would be compelled to articulate their views on the issues young people care about. Young people would be able to support candidates that speak to their issues and share a vision for the future of the city.</p> <p>The program would also serve as a basis for high schools to encourage real political participation, not just theoretical. And in the longer-term, establishing the habit of political participation in high school is likely to greatly increase voter participation when students later become eligible.</p> <p>Yes, the image of candidates soliciting donations on the steps of a local high school is strange. But, is it any stranger than courting developers at swanky restaurants or city contractors at private parties?</p> <p>If you believe in changing the corrupting influence of big money in politics and energizing those left out of politics, then you should support empowering the city’s young people.</p> <p>***<br />Heath Brown is associate professor of public policy at City University of New York, John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center, and the author of Pay to Play Politics. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/heathbrown">@heathbrown</a>.</p> <p>

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-cm-arroyo-800.jpg" alt="city council cm arroyo 800" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand wants to give all Americans <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/05/01/us/politics/ap-us-election-2020-kirsten-gillibrand.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Faponline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$600</a> to donate to candidates for office. She believes this will level the campaign finance playing field and ween candidates from the corrupting influence of large donors and corporate PACs.</p> <p>This is a well-meaning reform based on early <a href="https://readsludge.com/2018/11/10/evaluating-the-seattle-democracy-voucher-experiment%EF%BB%BF/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">success </a>of the Democracy Voucher Program in Seattle, Washington, to diversify the pool of donors, yet it misses an important point. By restricting “Democracy Dollars” to eligible voters, one of our most important constituencies is again left out: young people.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/17/5-facts-about-u-s-political-donations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pew </a>Research Center, the pool of donors is as biased toward older voters as it is toward the wealthy and highly educated. A third of those over the age of 65 report giving a campaign donation compared to less than 10% of those 18-29 years old. In Seattle, <a href="https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/EthicsElections/DemocracyVoucher/DVP%20Evaluation%20Final%20Report%20April%2025%202018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">older voters</a> are much more likely to use a Democracy Voucher than younger voters, and minors are not even eligible.</p> <p>Is it any wonder that New York City classrooms are crumbling and segregation continues to plague our schools? On issues that are most likely to affect young people in the future -- from quality schools to climate change to the ballooning federal debt -- lawmakers remain unable to find long-term solutions.</p> <p>This is in part because the political voice of young people is muffled until they become eligible to vote at age 18, and after due to low voter turnout. As former Mayor <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/22/nyregion/new-york-s-immigrants-aren-t-rushing-to-politics.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ed Koch</a> famously quipped, “You don’t vote, you don’t count.”</p> <p>Interestingly, federal law does not bar young people from making campaign contributions. In 2005, the <a href="https://transition.fec.gov/law/litigation/McConnell.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">U.S. Supreme Court</a> found restrictions on campaign donations from minors unconstitutional. And <a href="https://www.participatorybudgeting.org/participatory-budgeting-in-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Participatory Budgeting</a> in New York City is already open to everyone over the age of 11.</p> <p>This opens a window of opportunity for the city to continue to innovate in the area of equitable campaign finance. While the city’s existing <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/candidate_services/Handbook_2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Matching Funds Program</a> does not match donations from minors, a new “Democracy Voucher Program for the Future” targeted at high school students could empower the leaders of the city in the decades to come.</p> <p>Similar to Senator Gillibrand’s proposal, the approximately 400,000 students attending public and private New York City high schools would receive $5 vouchers that they could donate to eligible candidates for office. If students were each allotted two vouchers, this would generate a pool of up to $4 million.</p> <p>This new program would potentially re-orient campaigns toward a newly powerful class of donors. Candidates would be compelled to articulate their views on the issues young people care about. Young people would be able to support candidates that speak to their issues and share a vision for the future of the city.</p> <p>The program would also serve as a basis for high schools to encourage real political participation, not just theoretical. And in the longer-term, establishing the habit of political participation in high school is likely to greatly increase voter participation when students later become eligible.</p> <p>Yes, the image of candidates soliciting donations on the steps of a local high school is strange. But, is it any stranger than courting developers at swanky restaurants or city contractors at private parties?</p> <p>If you believe in changing the corrupting influence of big money in politics and energizing those left out of politics, then you should support empowering the city’s young people.</p> <p>***<br />Heath Brown is associate professor of public policy at City University of New York, John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center, and the author of Pay to Play Politics. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/heathbrown">@heathbrown</a>.</p> <p>

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Why is Governor Cuomo Attacking a Longtime Labor Ally? 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8467-why-is-governor-cuomo-attacking-a-longtime-labor-ally Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-delivers.jpg" alt="cuomo delivers" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo speaks at a 32BJ rally (photo: Fred Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, has in recent weeks repeatedly <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-cuomo-dems-20190418-zq7i23xhabf45nfrklpnewua2q-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lashed out</a> at state legislators from his own party and a long-time labor ally, 32BJ SEIU, as he points to the role of independent expenditures in state politics amid questions about his own fundraising habits and commitment to campaign finance reform.</p> <p>The prominent building services workers union was in Cuomo’s corner when he was running for reelection in 2018 and also supported his attempt to push through the deal that would have brought a new Amazon campus to Queens, among other initiatives. But Cuomo seems to have soured on that relationship because of the union’s push for public financing of state elections and its ties with State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a young progressive who has been a vocal critic of the governor’s fundraising tactics after unseating a long-time ally of the governor, Jeff Klein, the former senator and leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.</p> <p>Last month, Biaggi was among three state legislators who <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/nyregion/governor-cuomo-fundraiser-albany-budget.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Cuomo for holding a big-dollar <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/nyregion/cuomo-fundraiser-donors-lobbyists.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fundraiser</a> as the state budget for the new fiscal year was being negotiated. As reported by the New York Times, several attendees of the fundraiser were seeking favorable state action in the budget and Cuomo even invited his budget director, Robert Mujica, to the Manhattan event. To Biaggi and others, it reeked of impropriety or at least the appearance of it.</p> <p>Cuomo, in turn, lambasted Biaggi and the others, as well as the Senate Democratic conference at large, for holding its own fundraisers during budget season. In the backdrop were negotiations around campaign finance reform, including creating a new system of public financing, which eventually was not included in the adopted budget though the Legislature and governor created a commission that would issue recommendations to create such a system. 32BJ was one of the leading voices in a large statewide coalition called Fair Elections for New York, which made a major push for public financing, including protests outside the governor’s office.</p> <p>On April 9, appearing on <a href="https://www.wamc.org/post/gov-cuomo-wamcs-roundtable-4919" target="_blank" rel="noopener">WAMC’s Roundtable with Alan Chartock</a>, Cuomo made his displeasure clear. “The hypocrisy is, the members who have stood up and criticized the fundraising, they themselves are doing fundraising,” he said, pointedly calling out the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. And taking a veiled shot at Biaggi, he continued, “Many of those members were funded with millions of dollars of dark money, from unions like 32BJ. Where is the public financing spirit, you know?”</p> <p>He went on to repeatedly name 32BJ, and only 32BJ, as he talked of the corrosive effect of outside spending in elections.</p> <p>There’s much more context behind Biaggi’s election, a former lawyer in the Cuomo administration who ascended by emerging victorious in a September 2018 primary election against then-Senator Klein, the powerful former leader of the breakaway Democrats who helped keep the Senate under Republican control for years. Klein’s conference reunited with the mainline Democrats in April last year, in a deal brokered by Cuomo, only for six of its eight members to be defeated in the primaries by challengers like Biaggi.</p> <p>As part of the reunification deal, Cuomo and sitting Democratic senators agreed not to support primaries against fellow Democrats, meaning Cuomo and Klein supported each other’s reelection. Klein, running while under investigation for allegedly having forcibly kissed a former aide (he denies the accusation), used an image of himself and Cuomo on campaign literature, though the governor never offered a formal endorsement.</p> <p>The IDC under Klein’s leadership played a moderating effect on legislation, which allowed Cuomo to pursue an agenda of compromise between Democrats and Republicans and push through many of his own priorities. Biaggi’s victory over Klein -- in which he spent <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearly ten times</a> the money her campaign did -- was boosted massively by 32BJ, whose endorsement was seen as a crack in the unity facade.</p> <p>The union donated thousands of dollars to her campaign, sent volunteers to her district, and also supported her with a nearly $80,000 independent expenditure campaign through its Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC. That political action committee, and its spending to help elect Biaggi, appears to have Cuomo perpetually bristling, especially given the union’s role in the Fair Elections campaign.</p> <p>“Unions like 32BJ are fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions. Big businesses and real estate interests often act to protect profits over people,” Biaggi said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We all know the true political currency of our time is people. I'll stand with the hard-working people of 32BJ every time.”</p> <p>Cuomo doesn’t seem as willing. At an unrelated news conference last Wednesday, <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-cuomo-dems-20190418-zq7i23xhabf45nfrklpnewua2q-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a New York Daily News report</a>, Cuomo’s ire again seemed to have been provoked as he addressed recent <a href="https://twitter.com/JamesSkoufis/status/1117613340136751105" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweets</a> by State Senator James Skoufis, the new chair of the committee on Investigations and Government Operations, who said that state contracts were regularly being handed out to firms that made large campaign contributions to the governor. Cuomo, in turn, implied that independent expenditures to state legislators’ campaigns were directly linked to legislation being introduced in Albany, which seemed to be directed at Skoufis’ support for a bill regarding home-rental services like AirBnB, which spent half a million dollars to help Skoufis get elected.</p> <p>Cuomo said, “I don’t think there’s any difference between Airbnb and 32BJ and charter schools or REBNY or the teachers unions, but this is where the money is coming from and it’s coming for a very specific purpose.”</p> <p>The governor’s repeated sling at 32BJ, which has more than 160,000 members across the country, mostly in New York, was again an odd inclusion among multi-million dollar firms and business interests, not to mention the teachers unions that he has often warred with during his tenure, finding something of a ceasefire in recent years.</p> <p>32BJ was one of Cuomo’s most prominent backers in his reelection race last year, <a href="https://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/04/32bj-endorses-cuomos-re-election/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">crediting him</a> with “a long and strong record of progressive policies” including the passage of a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and a $19 minimum wage for airport workers. The union donated the maximum $65,000 to his reelection race, and has contributed almost $150,000 to his campaigns since 2007.</p> <p>A week after the union endorsed him in early April 2018, it also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/nyregion/cuomo-nixon-wfp-labor-governor-election.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">withdrew</a> from the Working Families Party, which was backing Cuomo’s primary opponent at the time, education activist and actor Cynthia Nixon. That same week, Cuomo <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QiGhngxwbg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">spoke at a 32BJ rally</a> in Manhattan.</p> <p>“32BJ is one of the best unions in the United States of America,” Cuomo proclaimed on stage, praising its leaders for helping pass the policies that earned him their endorsement. “You have to deal with the real estate industry, which is one of the toughest industries in this country, and 32BJ is up to the fight...and what I love about 32BJ...they don’t just talk, they deliver.”</p> <p>In February, Cuomo was championing New York’s winning bid to bring Amazon and its projected 25,000 jobs to the state by building a new campus in Long Island City. Despite the tech firm’s checkered history of opposing unionizing efforts by employees, 32BJ was behind him, seeing the promise of jobs for its union members through building service contracts and the potential for broader unionization gains. After Amazon cancelled its plans, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-release/32bj-the-loss-of-amazon-headquarters-is-a-lost-opportunity-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called it</a> “a missed opportunity to engage one of the largest companies in the world and to create a pathway to union representation for one of the largest groups of predominantly non-union workers in our country.”</p> <p>The governor’s office denied any ulterior motives behind his more recent comments and declined to further explain the specific targeting of 32BJ. “I know you guys have trouble fathoming this, but not everything is some conspiracy. Sometimes the truth is the truth,” a Cuomo spokesperson said in an email, before not responding to additional inquiries.</p> <p>Amity Paye, a 32BJ spokesperson, said the union was surprised by the governor’s remarks. “We weren’t clear what prompted him to do this,” she said in a phone interview. “We responded on social media to the comments but we haven’t had any direct conversations about this with the administration. We wouldn’t presume to guess why this happened.” She also pushed back against the union’s mention among groups like REBNY and AirBnB as independent spenders. “There’s not a comparison. We’re not a multimillion dollar corporation. The money we invest literally comes from thousands of members pooling their money. It’s entirely different,” she said.</p> <p>As Paye noted, Alison Hirsh, political director of 32BJ, called the governor’s comments “perplexing” in <a href="https://twitter.com/AlisonHirsh/status/1118618392360046593" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a tweet on April 17</a>, just after he railed against the union at the press conference, and Figueroa also responded that <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1118616043558191105" target="_blank" rel="noopener">same day</a>. “Any Dem leader should understand there’s a world of difference between worker organizations such as unions and corporations/employer associations &amp; that it isn’t hypocritical to push for campaign finance reform while benefitting from IE. Both NY Senate Dems AND @NYGovCuomo have.”</p> <p>Biaggi <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1118694495225249794" target="_blank" rel="noopener">retweeted</a> him.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-delivers.jpg" alt="cuomo delivers" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo speaks at a 32BJ rally (photo: Fred Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, has in recent weeks repeatedly <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-cuomo-dems-20190418-zq7i23xhabf45nfrklpnewua2q-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lashed out</a> at state legislators from his own party and a long-time labor ally, 32BJ SEIU, as he points to the role of independent expenditures in state politics amid questions about his own fundraising habits and commitment to campaign finance reform.</p> <p>The prominent building services workers union was in Cuomo’s corner when he was running for reelection in 2018 and also supported his attempt to push through the deal that would have brought a new Amazon campus to Queens, among other initiatives. But Cuomo seems to have soured on that relationship because of the union’s push for public financing of state elections and its ties with State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a young progressive who has been a vocal critic of the governor’s fundraising tactics after unseating a long-time ally of the governor, Jeff Klein, the former senator and leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.</p> <p>Last month, Biaggi was among three state legislators who <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/nyregion/governor-cuomo-fundraiser-albany-budget.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Cuomo for holding a big-dollar <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/nyregion/cuomo-fundraiser-donors-lobbyists.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fundraiser</a> as the state budget for the new fiscal year was being negotiated. As reported by the New York Times, several attendees of the fundraiser were seeking favorable state action in the budget and Cuomo even invited his budget director, Robert Mujica, to the Manhattan event. To Biaggi and others, it reeked of impropriety or at least the appearance of it.</p> <p>Cuomo, in turn, lambasted Biaggi and the others, as well as the Senate Democratic conference at large, for holding its own fundraisers during budget season. In the backdrop were negotiations around campaign finance reform, including creating a new system of public financing, which eventually was not included in the adopted budget though the Legislature and governor created a commission that would issue recommendations to create such a system. 32BJ was one of the leading voices in a large statewide coalition called Fair Elections for New York, which made a major push for public financing, including protests outside the governor’s office.</p> <p>On April 9, appearing on <a href="https://www.wamc.org/post/gov-cuomo-wamcs-roundtable-4919" target="_blank" rel="noopener">WAMC’s Roundtable with Alan Chartock</a>, Cuomo made his displeasure clear. “The hypocrisy is, the members who have stood up and criticized the fundraising, they themselves are doing fundraising,” he said, pointedly calling out the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. And taking a veiled shot at Biaggi, he continued, “Many of those members were funded with millions of dollars of dark money, from unions like 32BJ. Where is the public financing spirit, you know?”</p> <p>He went on to repeatedly name 32BJ, and only 32BJ, as he talked of the corrosive effect of outside spending in elections.</p> <p>There’s much more context behind Biaggi’s election, a former lawyer in the Cuomo administration who ascended by emerging victorious in a September 2018 primary election against then-Senator Klein, the powerful former leader of the breakaway Democrats who helped keep the Senate under Republican control for years. Klein’s conference reunited with the mainline Democrats in April last year, in a deal brokered by Cuomo, only for six of its eight members to be defeated in the primaries by challengers like Biaggi.</p> <p>As part of the reunification deal, Cuomo and sitting Democratic senators agreed not to support primaries against fellow Democrats, meaning Cuomo and Klein supported each other’s reelection. Klein, running while under investigation for allegedly having forcibly kissed a former aide (he denies the accusation), used an image of himself and Cuomo on campaign literature, though the governor never offered a formal endorsement.</p> <p>The IDC under Klein’s leadership played a moderating effect on legislation, which allowed Cuomo to pursue an agenda of compromise between Democrats and Republicans and push through many of his own priorities. Biaggi’s victory over Klein -- in which he spent <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearly ten times</a> the money her campaign did -- was boosted massively by 32BJ, whose endorsement was seen as a crack in the unity facade.</p> <p>The union donated thousands of dollars to her campaign, sent volunteers to her district, and also supported her with a nearly $80,000 independent expenditure campaign through its Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC. That political action committee, and its spending to help elect Biaggi, appears to have Cuomo perpetually bristling, especially given the union’s role in the Fair Elections campaign.</p> <p>“Unions like 32BJ are fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions. Big businesses and real estate interests often act to protect profits over people,” Biaggi said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We all know the true political currency of our time is people. I'll stand with the hard-working people of 32BJ every time.”</p> <p>Cuomo doesn’t seem as willing. At an unrelated news conference last Wednesday, <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-cuomo-dems-20190418-zq7i23xhabf45nfrklpnewua2q-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a New York Daily News report</a>, Cuomo’s ire again seemed to have been provoked as he addressed recent <a href="https://twitter.com/JamesSkoufis/status/1117613340136751105" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweets</a> by State Senator James Skoufis, the new chair of the committee on Investigations and Government Operations, who said that state contracts were regularly being handed out to firms that made large campaign contributions to the governor. Cuomo, in turn, implied that independent expenditures to state legislators’ campaigns were directly linked to legislation being introduced in Albany, which seemed to be directed at Skoufis’ support for a bill regarding home-rental services like AirBnB, which spent half a million dollars to help Skoufis get elected.</p> <p>Cuomo said, “I don’t think there’s any difference between Airbnb and 32BJ and charter schools or REBNY or the teachers unions, but this is where the money is coming from and it’s coming for a very specific purpose.”</p> <p>The governor’s repeated sling at 32BJ, which has more than 160,000 members across the country, mostly in New York, was again an odd inclusion among multi-million dollar firms and business interests, not to mention the teachers unions that he has often warred with during his tenure, finding something of a ceasefire in recent years.</p> <p>32BJ was one of Cuomo’s most prominent backers in his reelection race last year, <a href="https://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/04/32bj-endorses-cuomos-re-election/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">crediting him</a> with “a long and strong record of progressive policies” including the passage of a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and a $19 minimum wage for airport workers. The union donated the maximum $65,000 to his reelection race, and has contributed almost $150,000 to his campaigns since 2007.</p> <p>A week after the union endorsed him in early April 2018, it also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/nyregion/cuomo-nixon-wfp-labor-governor-election.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">withdrew</a> from the Working Families Party, which was backing Cuomo’s primary opponent at the time, education activist and actor Cynthia Nixon. That same week, Cuomo <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QiGhngxwbg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">spoke at a 32BJ rally</a> in Manhattan.</p> <p>“32BJ is one of the best unions in the United States of America,” Cuomo proclaimed on stage, praising its leaders for helping pass the policies that earned him their endorsement. “You have to deal with the real estate industry, which is one of the toughest industries in this country, and 32BJ is up to the fight...and what I love about 32BJ...they don’t just talk, they deliver.”</p> <p>In February, Cuomo was championing New York’s winning bid to bring Amazon and its projected 25,000 jobs to the state by building a new campus in Long Island City. Despite the tech firm’s checkered history of opposing unionizing efforts by employees, 32BJ was behind him, seeing the promise of jobs for its union members through building service contracts and the potential for broader unionization gains. After Amazon cancelled its plans, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-release/32bj-the-loss-of-amazon-headquarters-is-a-lost-opportunity-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called it</a> “a missed opportunity to engage one of the largest companies in the world and to create a pathway to union representation for one of the largest groups of predominantly non-union workers in our country.”</p> <p>The governor’s office denied any ulterior motives behind his more recent comments and declined to further explain the specific targeting of 32BJ. “I know you guys have trouble fathoming this, but not everything is some conspiracy. Sometimes the truth is the truth,” a Cuomo spokesperson said in an email, before not responding to additional inquiries.</p> <p>Amity Paye, a 32BJ spokesperson, said the union was surprised by the governor’s remarks. “We weren’t clear what prompted him to do this,” she said in a phone interview. “We responded on social media to the comments but we haven’t had any direct conversations about this with the administration. We wouldn’t presume to guess why this happened.” She also pushed back against the union’s mention among groups like REBNY and AirBnB as independent spenders. “There’s not a comparison. We’re not a multimillion dollar corporation. The money we invest literally comes from thousands of members pooling their money. It’s entirely different,” she said.</p> <p>As Paye noted, Alison Hirsh, political director of 32BJ, called the governor’s comments “perplexing” in <a href="https://twitter.com/AlisonHirsh/status/1118618392360046593" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a tweet on April 17</a>, just after he railed against the union at the press conference, and Figueroa also responded that <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1118616043558191105" target="_blank" rel="noopener">same day</a>. “Any Dem leader should understand there’s a world of difference between worker organizations such as unions and corporations/employer associations &amp; that it isn’t hypocritical to push for campaign finance reform while benefitting from IE. Both NY Senate Dems AND @NYGovCuomo have.”</p> <p>Biaggi <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1118694495225249794" target="_blank" rel="noopener">retweeted</a> him.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program 2019-04-15T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-15T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8452-city-council-hears-bill-to-expand-public-campaign-finance-matching-program Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/28261878818_c85778112d_z.jpg" alt="Kallos City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations heard testimony on Monday on a bill to expand the public matching funds available to candidates under the city’s campaign finance program.</p> <p>The campaign finance system incentivizes individuals to seek small dollar donations when running for office, matching those contributions with public funds. Under a recent city charter amendment approved by voters, a citywide candidate can receive public funds at an 8-to-1 ratio for the first $250 of each contribution (an increase from 6-to-1 for the first $175), and they can cover up to 75% of the spending limit for the office through public funds (up from 55%).</p> <p>That charter change was quickly implemented through local law, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, for all special elections before the 2021 general election, thus applying to multiple races this year.</p> <p>Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has also proposed increasing the public funds cap to roughly 89% of the spending limit, effectively allowing candidates to run their campaigns entirely on small contributions and the subsequent public match, and diluting the effect of wealthier, larger donors. And he hopes to put that reform into effect for the 2021 city election cycle, which will feature a massive number of local races, from citywide and borough wide posts through the City Council. Kallos estimates it will lead to roughly $61.7 million in public funds disbursements, about $10.3 million more than if the 75% match is kept in place. His projections are based on participation rates in the 2013 election when the CFB gave about $38 million to qualifying candidates.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think this is a gamechanger,” Kallos said at Monday’s hearing, citing the recent citywide public advocate special election as proof that increasing the public funds match reduced big donations. He pointed to the latest campaign finance disclosures from all the campaigns, which showed that contributions of $250 or less made up 61% of all contributions, up from 26.3% of all contributions in the 2013 public advocate race, according to his office’s analysis of the numbers.</p> <p>“We have flipped how campaigns are financed, upside down,” said Kallos, who is term-limited and expected to seek higher office in 2021, emphasizing that he believes the system must be expanded to fully eliminate big money donations.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8418-city-council-member-kallos-increase-matching-funds-available-public-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System</a>]</p> <p>Kallos’ bill has the support of the committee chair, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is exploring a run for mayor and only taking donations of $250 and under. But other city officials seemed less sure about the exact proposal while supporting its goals more broadly.</p> <p>Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the city’s new chief democracy officer who runs Mayor Bill de Blasio’s DemocracyNYC initiative, generally praised the campaign finance program and the recent improvements that were enacted within it by the charter amendment, which was set into motion by the mayor’s formation of a charter revision commission.</p> <p>She emphasized the need to increase public engagement in the city’s democracy by increasing public trust. “Establishing this trust begins with rooting out corruption and even the perception of corruption by getting big money out of politics,” she said in her testimony. But she said while the administration “support[s] the values” of Kallos’ bill, there would need to be more discussion of its specifics with advocates, the Council, and the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which administers the campaign finance program.</p> <p>Similarly, Amy Loprest, executive director of the CFB, and Frederick Schaffer, chair of the board, said they were “supportive of the goals of this legislation” but had practical concerns about the current version. For one, Loprest noted, the recent charter amendment imposed a prohibition on early payment of public funds unless a candidate submits a Certified Statement of Need, in order to prevent unserious candidates or those without any opposition from getting public money. Kallos’ bill removes that prohibition, and Loprest said it should find a way to address it.</p> <p>She also pointed out that candidates who rely overwhelmingly on public funds -- which are subject to fairly strict standards for campaign use -- would lack the flexibility to spend campaign funds on expenditures that do not qualify for the public funds program. For instance, cash payments or post-election spending.</p> <p>The bill has the support of Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, and Dawn Smalls, an attorney who ran for public advocate in the February special election.</p> <p>Tom Speaker, a policy analyst at Reinvent Albany, pointed out that with the current 75% cap on public funds, candidates for City Council would still have to raise about $47,000 in private donations and could look to wealthy donors. ‘“Raising the cap can reduce that dependency and allow for more donations from small donors,” he said.</p> <p>Smalls, who was a first-time candidate in February, emphasized the importance of the small dollar matching program, which she said, “allowed me to communicate with voters and effectively compete in this race.” She did, however, criticize the CFB’s compliance regulations, which she said are "an&nbsp;unnecessary burden on all candidates, but one that falls excessively on candidates that may be&nbsp;new to the process and have less infrastructure." She emphasized her campaign's sophisticated operation and team of professionals, which she said shouldn't be necessary or reasonably expected of first-time candidates. &nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone in the Council is a fan of the bill, of course. Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat and former campaign finance consultant, criticized the proposal and sought to repeatedly poke holes in the campaign finance program more broadly.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify Dawn Smalls' comments.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with cost projections from Council Member Ben Kallos.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/28261878818_c85778112d_z.jpg" alt="Kallos City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations heard testimony on Monday on a bill to expand the public matching funds available to candidates under the city’s campaign finance program.</p> <p>The campaign finance system incentivizes individuals to seek small dollar donations when running for office, matching those contributions with public funds. Under a recent city charter amendment approved by voters, a citywide candidate can receive public funds at an 8-to-1 ratio for the first $250 of each contribution (an increase from 6-to-1 for the first $175), and they can cover up to 75% of the spending limit for the office through public funds (up from 55%).</p> <p>That charter change was quickly implemented through local law, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, for all special elections before the 2021 general election, thus applying to multiple races this year.</p> <p>Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has also proposed increasing the public funds cap to roughly 89% of the spending limit, effectively allowing candidates to run their campaigns entirely on small contributions and the subsequent public match, and diluting the effect of wealthier, larger donors. And he hopes to put that reform into effect for the 2021 city election cycle, which will feature a massive number of local races, from citywide and borough wide posts through the City Council. Kallos estimates it will lead to roughly $61.7 million in public funds disbursements, about $10.3 million more than if the 75% match is kept in place. His projections are based on participation rates in the 2013 election when the CFB gave about $38 million to qualifying candidates.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think this is a gamechanger,” Kallos said at Monday’s hearing, citing the recent citywide public advocate special election as proof that increasing the public funds match reduced big donations. He pointed to the latest campaign finance disclosures from all the campaigns, which showed that contributions of $250 or less made up 61% of all contributions, up from 26.3% of all contributions in the 2013 public advocate race, according to his office’s analysis of the numbers.</p> <p>“We have flipped how campaigns are financed, upside down,” said Kallos, who is term-limited and expected to seek higher office in 2021, emphasizing that he believes the system must be expanded to fully eliminate big money donations.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8418-city-council-member-kallos-increase-matching-funds-available-public-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System</a>]</p> <p>Kallos’ bill has the support of the committee chair, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is exploring a run for mayor and only taking donations of $250 and under. But other city officials seemed less sure about the exact proposal while supporting its goals more broadly.</p> <p>Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the city’s new chief democracy officer who runs Mayor Bill de Blasio’s DemocracyNYC initiative, generally praised the campaign finance program and the recent improvements that were enacted within it by the charter amendment, which was set into motion by the mayor’s formation of a charter revision commission.</p> <p>She emphasized the need to increase public engagement in the city’s democracy by increasing public trust. “Establishing this trust begins with rooting out corruption and even the perception of corruption by getting big money out of politics,” she said in her testimony. But she said while the administration “support[s] the values” of Kallos’ bill, there would need to be more discussion of its specifics with advocates, the Council, and the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which administers the campaign finance program.</p> <p>Similarly, Amy Loprest, executive director of the CFB, and Frederick Schaffer, chair of the board, said they were “supportive of the goals of this legislation” but had practical concerns about the current version. For one, Loprest noted, the recent charter amendment imposed a prohibition on early payment of public funds unless a candidate submits a Certified Statement of Need, in order to prevent unserious candidates or those without any opposition from getting public money. Kallos’ bill removes that prohibition, and Loprest said it should find a way to address it.</p> <p>She also pointed out that candidates who rely overwhelmingly on public funds -- which are subject to fairly strict standards for campaign use -- would lack the flexibility to spend campaign funds on expenditures that do not qualify for the public funds program. For instance, cash payments or post-election spending.</p> <p>The bill has the support of Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, and Dawn Smalls, an attorney who ran for public advocate in the February special election.</p> <p>Tom Speaker, a policy analyst at Reinvent Albany, pointed out that with the current 75% cap on public funds, candidates for City Council would still have to raise about $47,000 in private donations and could look to wealthy donors. ‘“Raising the cap can reduce that dependency and allow for more donations from small donors,” he said.</p> <p>Smalls, who was a first-time candidate in February, emphasized the importance of the small dollar matching program, which she said, “allowed me to communicate with voters and effectively compete in this race.” She did, however, criticize the CFB’s compliance regulations, which she said are "an&nbsp;unnecessary burden on all candidates, but one that falls excessively on candidates that may be&nbsp;new to the process and have less infrastructure." She emphasized her campaign's sophisticated operation and team of professionals, which she said shouldn't be necessary or reasonably expected of first-time candidates. &nbsp;</p> <p>Not everyone in the Council is a fan of the bill, of course. Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat and former campaign finance consultant, criticized the proposal and sought to repeatedly poke holes in the campaign finance program more broadly.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify Dawn Smalls' comments.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with cost projections from Council Member Ben Kallos.</p>