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1989-48: Use of Public Funds for the Distribution of Campaign Literature and Palm Cards

Thursday, October 12, 1989

An opinion has been requested whether public funds may be used for certain expenses incurred in connection with the distribution of campaign literature on and immediately prior to the primary election date. The following circumstances have been described: campaign literature and "palm cards" were distributed on and immediately prior to the day of the primary election by individuals who were paid a fee by the candidate. None of the individuals paid to distribute literature was a campaign staff worker.

Section 3-704(1) of the New York City Administrative Code permits the use of public funds "only for services, material, facilities or other things of value used to educate the public as to the candidates and issues" of an election. These "qualified campaign expenditures" include "expenditures associated with advertising, communication with potential voters, and voter registration drives..." The Board is authorized to determine which, if any, other expenditures "serve the function of educating the public" and thus qualify for the use of public funds. Id.

Administrative Code §3-704(2) provides that public funds may not be used for:

(g) gifts, except brochures, buttons, signs and other printed campaign material1;

(h) any direct payment of a salary or wage to any individual...

Public funds may be used for the printing and distribution of campaign literature and palm cards which are used to educate potential voters about the candidates and issues in an election. In the situation described, the persons engaged in the distribution of the literature have not been paid salaries or wages by the candidate. Rather, the distribution costs were essentially fees paid pursuant to separate contracts. Public funds may therefore be used to pay these distribution costs2.

NEW YORK CITY CAMPAIGN FINANCE BOARD

1 As discussed in a letter dated July 27, 1989 from Nicole A. Gordon to all committee treasurers, this provision was misprinted in the certified copy of Local Law No. 4 of 1989 in that the word "except" was omitted. Although the certified copy of the local law contains this misprint, the Board has been advised by the New York City Law Department that it is proper to rely upon the language of this provision as originally adopted in Local Law No. 8 of 1988.

2 The palm cards distributed by the candidate's committee contained the names of candidates for several other municipal offices. If the candidate's committee receives reimbursement from any other candidate's committee to cover a portion of the costs of the palm cards, the amount of the qualified campaign expenditure claimed by the candidate must be reduced by the amount of any such reimbursement.