The CFB’s Proposals to Increase the Value of Small Contributions for Citywide Campaigns

July 06, 2018

Now in its 30th year, New York City’s small-dollar matching funds system gives a stronger, clearer voice to the everyday concerns of New Yorkers in our political system and it is a model for grassroots reform efforts underway across the country.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) issues recommendations to improve the program after every election.  With the New York City Charter Revision Commission considering campaign finance reform proposals to put on the ballot in November, the CFB is sharing its recommendations.

The recommendations, outlined here in four steps, will help more city residents get involved in city elections, both as contributors and as candidates. They will make our elections more competitive and inclusive. And they will help reduce the possibility and suggestion of corruption that comes from big money in our elections.

Step 1: Match small-dollar contributions to citywide candidates at a higher rate

New York City’s Campaign Finance Program makes it easier to run for city office for more candidates from more diverse backgrounds. The current $6-to-$1 public funds matching rate allows candidates to run robust campaigns even if they lack access to donors capable of writing large checks. The program works by making a $10 contribution worth $70 to a qualifying campaign up to the first $175 donated. This empowers more candidates to run for the City Council, Borough President, and citywide offices.

To give small-dollar contributors a larger role in citywide contests, we’re proposing to increase the matching rate for contributions raised by candidates for mayor and other citywide offices to $8-to-$1, and to extend the matching rate to the first $250 from each contributor.

The higher rate will provide a stronger incentive for citywide campaigns to concentrate on raising small-dollar contributions by making those small-dollar contributions to citywide candidates more valuable.

Step 2: Lower the Contribution Limits

Our second proposal is to lower the contribution limits so that small contributors play an even larger role in city campaigns.

New York City’s contribution limits prevent candidates from relying only on a small set of wealthy donors. As such, they help reduce the potential for, and appearance of, corruption in city elections. While generally meeting those goals, the current contribution limits allow private contributions as large as $5,100 to candidates for mayor and other citywide office. Especially in citywide races where candidates must raise millions of dollars, some candidates rely heavily on large contributions.

The CFB recommends lowering NYC’s contribution limit for citywide candidates to $2,250 from $5,100, to $1,750 from $2,950 for borough-wide offices, and to $1,250 from $2,850 for city council seats. At this lower limit, a maximum contribution to a citywide candidate will provide the same value as a New Yorker’s $250 contribution matched with public funds under the higher rate we’ve proposed. Diminishing the size of the largest private contributions while increasing the value of small-dollar contributions will be a huge step towards giving average New Yorkers an even greater voice in city elections.  

Step 3: Increase the Cap on Public Funds Payments

Next, the CFB recommends increasing the public funds payment cap to 65 percent of the expenditure limit from the current limit of 55 percent. This change will apply to all offices covered by New York City’s Campaign Finance Act: City Council, Borough President, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Mayor.

With lower contribution limits, increasing the amount of public funds available to campaigns will further empower candidates to build competitive campaigns with the help of small-dollar contributors—especially at the City Council level, where it is not uncommon for candidates to receive maximum public funds payments.  

Steps one and two will make it easier for more citywide candidates to reach a maximum public funds payment; increasing the cap on public funds will allow candidates to use public funds for an even greater share of their overall campaign expenses.

 

Step 4: Make it Easier for More Citywide Candidates to Receive Public Funds

And finally, the CFB recommends making the benefits of the program more accessible for citywide candidates by lowering the thresholds required to receive public matching funds.

Currently, candidates for mayor must raise $250,000 in matching claims, with 1,000 contributors giving at least $10 to qualify for matching funds. Candidates for public advocate and comptroller must raise $125,000 with 500 contributors giving at least $10.

We recommend lower the thresholds, of $125,000 for mayor and $75,000 for public advocate and comptroller. We also recommend making $5 the minimum contribution amount that would count towards meeting the payment thresholds. Together, these proposal will make the system more accessible for more candidates for mayor, public advocate, and comptroller.

If enacted together, the CFB believes these recommendations will build on the successes of the Program’s past three decades, significantly improve the average citizen’s involvement in our local elections, and provide city candidates with even greater incentive to focus their fundraising efforts on small-dollar contributors living in their own communities.