Support for Passage of City Council Bill Increasing Public Matching Funds For Small Campaign Contributions
Int. No. 732-B acts on Campaign Finance Board recommendations to raise cap on matching funds, further empowering small donors
Reinvent Albany supports Int. 732-B (Kallos), which will enable candidates to receive more public matching funds for small campaign contributions. The bill, which the Council is voting on today, will raise the cap on public funds candidates can receive for city campaigns to 88.8% of the spending limit for the office the candidate is seeking, up from 75%. The increase to 75% (from 55%) was approved by the voters in 2018 after that year’s Charter Revision Commission put the proposal on the ballot. Through Int. 732-B, for City Council, a candidate will be able to raise up to $26,220 more in public funds. For Mayor, $1,000,548 more.
Even though NYC’s campaign finance system is one of the best in the country, the majority of campaign funds in city races still come from large donors. Reinvent Albany believes a full public match will give small donors a greater voice and that lower contributions will diminish the perception of corruption among elected officials. Int. 732-B strengthens New York City’s democracy by encouraging candidates to rely on a large number of small donors, rather than a few deep-pocketed interests. We have backed an increase in the public funds cap since Councilmember Ben Kallos held a hearing on the original version of this bill in 2017, which would have raised the cap to 85% from 55%, and we testified in favor of version A of this bill in April. We also supported Question 1, which established an $8:$1 match in addition to increasing the cap to 75%.
Int. 732-B also moves distribution dates for public funds to December from February, another change we support. This amendment was proposed after the passage of state legislation moving all primary elections up to June from September. Reinvent Albany recommended moving up the distribution dates when testifying before the Charter Revision Commission, as numerous candidates had voiced concerns about receiving the funds too late in their campaigns. The new primary election dates necessitate an even earlier disbursement of funds.
Some have raised issues with this legislation because it is perceived to benefit certain potential candidates over others in the next election cycle. That argument could apply to many changes to voting and campaign finance laws. Regardless, Reinvent Albany supports policies that strengthen our democracy over the long term.
Others have criticized the bill retroactively applying new contribution limits to donations already raised this election cycle. Under the latest version of this bill, candidates who wish to opt into the new system in elections prior to 2022 must return the portion of any past contributions that are greater than the new lower donation limits. This is a change from the 2018 ballot proposal, which allowed candidates to retain past donations over the new lower contribution limits and still opt into the new option of an $8:$1 match. Reinvent Albany agrees with the Campaign Finance Board’s position that candidates should not get an $8:$1 match while benefiting from the larger contributions of the old system. In any case, candidates only have to return the portion of donations above the old contribution limit from 2018 to January 12, 2019, roughly the first year of a four-year election cycle, when less fundraising occurs. Candidates who want to retain their large contributions can do so by not opting into the new system, and still raise money under the old $6:$1 match with larger contributions.
The passage of Question 1 last November was a significant improvement for NYC’s public matching system, and Int. 732-B is another step in the right direction. We urge the Council to pass the legislation.
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