Thursday, January 5, 2017

NYC Council Passes Legislation Targeting Hidden Money in City Elections

New York City’s landmark Small-Dollar Matching Campaign Finance system may soon be protected from an onslaught of dark money and special interests in City Elections. The Committee on Governmental Operations chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos passed a package of Legislation that expands the "doing business" definitions to include owners of Companies that own Companies and no longer matching funds they bundle as well as providing early determinations and payments of public funds". This package was first introduced in late 2015 by Governmental Operations Committee Chair Ben Kallos along with Council Members Jumaane Williams, Andy King, and Fernando Cabrera. This Committee vote sends the legislation to the full council where it is expected to pass.

The package consists of introductions recommended by the New York Campaign Finance Board in their 2013 Post-Election Report including:

Recommendation #1: Make determinations about public funds payments earlier in the election cycle by moving determination and first payment to June after the certification deadline for participation in the public matching instead of August (Intro 0986).

Recommendation #5: Reduce the impact of bundling by people doing business with the City. Funds bundled by special interests “doing business” with the City such as lobbyists would not be matchable. In 2013, 19% of bundlers were “doing business” with the City, raising 24% of all funds bundled (Intro 0985).

Recommendation #10: Add disclosure requirements for entities with an ownership interest in doing business entities. Owners of Companies that own Companies “doing business” with the City such as in real estate would now be included in disclosure (Intro 1001)

“Strengthening the voice of the people over corporate interests is happening through our city’s campaign finance system matches small dollars with public dollars, which will be strengthened by legislation that will forbid the matching contributions from individuals and owners of companies doing business or the contributions they bundle,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations where the Legislation has been referred for a hearing. “The people’s individual small dollar contributions will have more power and there will be more certainty for them and the candidates they invest in, with earlier determination that each contribution will be matching by public funding.”

“There are those who know how to use the system and create an unfair advantage,” Council Member King, Author of Intro. 990-A, said noting that candidates backed by Special Interest Groups and Lobbyists can raise and spend unlimited funds. “This legislation is a step to level the playing field. It will require candidates with extensive resources to play by the same rules as hopefuls with lesser resources who must participate in the public-finance system. By eliminating non-registered political committee funding, we, in the City Council, are prepared to champion a transparent electoral process.”

“After the 2013 elections, the Board conducted a thorough review of the Program and proposed a series of measures to make the program easier for candidates to navigate and further enhance our system’s robust protections against the impact of special-interest money in our elections. We commend the Council for embracing many of the Board’s recommendations. New York City’s landmark public matching funds program has thrived and succeeded over nearly three decades because the law has been adapted time and time again by the Council to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving political landscape,” said Amy Loprest, Executive Director NYC Campaign Finance Board.

Additional recommendations that have been introduced include:

Recommendation #8: Add flexibility to the Voter Guide mandate (Intro 0988) This bill would allow voters to opt-out of receiving a printed copy of the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Guide and would also require the Campaign Finance Board to produce a Voter Guide, though not necessarily in a printed format, for State and Federal Election races.

Recommendation #11: Clarify eligibility requirements for debates (Intro 0987). This bill would modify the standard for contributions raised and spent by candidates who participate in the City’s Public Funding Matching program in order to be eligible to participate in the first official Debate for the office they seek.

Recommendation #12: Equalize TIE contribution limits and Campaign Contribution limits (Intro 980). A Local Law to amend the Administrative Code of the City of New York, in relation to realigning contribution limits to transition and inauguration entities with Contribution limits to Campaigns.

Recommendation #13: Extend ban on accepting contributions from Non-Registered Political Committees to Non-Participants (Intro 990). Prohibiting contributions from Non-Registered Political Committees to candidates who are not participating in the City’s Public Matching program.

Recommendation #14: Eliminate requirement for candidates to submit COIB receipt (Intro 1002). Amend the Administrative Code of the City of New York, in relation to requiring the Conflicts of Interest Board to maintain records of compliance with the Conflicts of Interest law for participants in the City’s Public Matching program.

Key recommendations from the report have already been heard and voted on by the Committee on Governmental Operations and signed into law by the Mayor including:

Recommendation #3: Strengthen Disclosure of Independent Expenditures.
Recommendation #4: Ban Anonymous Campaign Communications.

In 1988, New York City voters led the Nation by approving a referendum establishing the Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As Elections are increasingly dominated by super PACs, it is important for the CFB to continue to innovate. The enormous influx of outside money into the 2013 Municipal Elections underscores the importance of implementing these changes in time for Citywide 2017 Election cycle. The changes sought by this reform package will strengthen the integrity of the system, maximize the public’s investment in the Political process, and democratize the Financing of Elections.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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