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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


OMG: City Council Approves Campaign Donations Via Text Message


New Yorkers may soon be able to make campaign contributions to political candidates via text message.

The City Council passed a bill (Intro 764-A) on Tuesday that would allow the campaigns of candidates running for local office to collect donations up to $99 via text messaging.

Using the 2012 presidential campaigns as models — both the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns accepted texted donations after the Federal Election Commission approved their use — the city is giving the New York City Campaign Finance Board the leeway to explore how the system would be implemented. The board itself testified in support of the bill at an October hearing.

Unlike previous models, however, New York’s will be the first in which texts donations are eligible for matching funds. Candidates participating in the city’s public financing program receive a six-to-one match for every dollar donated by New York City residents.

“The City’s landmark campaign finance program is designed to expand the role of small-dollar contributions, amplify the voice of average New Yorkers, and reduce the role of special interests in our elections,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesman for the CFB, adding that the bill would also help candidates and the program keep pace with current technology.

{pullquote}We hope to make it easier for people who may not be otherwise connected to political fundraising to participate in the process. — City Councilwoman Gale Brewer{/pullquote}

The bill’s co-sponsor, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, explained that the $99 maximum donation would require a minimum amount of paperwork from donors.

“The New York City campaign finance system is often lauded as one of the country’s best examples of how to encourage small donors to be involved in political campaigns, instead of relying on large contributions,” Brewer said. “With this legislation, we hope to make it easier for people who may not be otherwise connected to political fundraising to participate in the process, making elected officials accountable to a multitude of constituents, not just deep-pocketed special interests.”

Brewer went on to note that there are some obvious issues that still need to be sorted, most notably shared cell phone plans. The bill leaves it to the CFB to address how to verify that the text’s sender — and not just the bill payer — actually donated to a campaign and provides the information required by campaign finance law.

“The CFB is aware of all these questions and they’re already thinking about them,” Brewer said on Tuesday.


The Council also unanimously passed a bill requiring speed humps around the city’s schools. The bill mandates that the Department of Transportation evaluate the area around all city schools — public and private. It also calls for no fewer than 50 humps a year at a total annual cost of $350,000 to $500,000.

Intro 732-A, which DOT testified in favor of, also requires that its commissioner provide a detailed report to the Council speaker if the agency deems that humps don’t need to be installed.

“This bill will help prevent the tragedy of our children losing life and limb to reckless, speeding drivers,” said Councilwoman Debi Rose, the lead sponsor of the bill. “I am thrilled that the council will once again show its leadership in ensuring public safety and protecting our most vulnerable citizens – our children – by passing this important legislation on Tuesday.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn argued that speeding was one cause of deadly crashes, and that the Council “must do everything we can to prevent fatalities.” Describing the humps as “a longer, flatter version of a bump,” she went on to say that the Council is still deliberating on a bill to reduce speeding limits on side and residential streets but hopes to see a vote before the year’s end.

“We’re actively working on it right now,” Quinn said.


The Council also passed a bill (Intro 488) to require the city Board of Elections to post sample ballots online, a practice that the board had already begun to do voluntarily in recent elections. The sample ballots, which can be found on the board’s website by inputting a voter’s address, were often referred to during this year’s election as a way to reduce voter confusion with the 6-point font on the two-page ballot.

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