Testimony of Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, to the City Council Committees on Finance and Governmental Operations
Good Afternoon Chair Cabrera, Chair Dromm, and members of the Committees on Governmental Operations and Finance. My name is Amy Loprest, and I am the Executive Director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). With me is Board Chair Frederick Schaffer. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on the CFB’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 and to answer any questions you might have.
This last year has been another active one for the CFB. This includes the February special election for public advocate, as well as a special election this past Tuesday for City Council in District 45. We have also seen the matching funds program undergo significant changes during the past year, which we will address later in detail. We are now looking ahead to an even busier election calendar, and accordingly, part of this year’s budget includes our voter engagement efforts for the 2020 presidential, federal, and state elections.
We are also preparing for the 2021 citywide elections. 2021 will be the largest election cycle the CFB has seen in its 30-year history. By 2021, 42 current officeholders will be term-limited. Consequently, we are expecting as many as 500 candidates to appear on a primary or general election ballot in 2021. The volume of expected candidates and the earlier election calendar will require us to begin hiring and training additional staff during the next fiscal year.
Before I get into the specifics of this year’s budget, I’d like to discuss some of the changes the Program has undergone in the last year.
Changes to the Program and Election Calendar
As mentioned, the legal framework for the matching funds program has been transformed over the past 12 months. The first of three Charter revision proposals approved by voters in November 2018 made multiple changes to the Program aimed at encouraging more candidates to build viable campaigns for office—especially citywide office—that are fueled by small-dollar contributors, rather than large contributions.
First, the matching rate was increased, from $6-to-$1 to $8-to-$1. For candidates seeking citywide office, the Program will match the first $250 from New York City residents, instead of the $175 that applies for all other candidates. Along with the increased matching rate, contribution limits were lowered for all offices as well. Additionally, candidates running in 2021 will be able to choose between the $6-to-$1 or $8-to-$1 systems and their respective contribution limits.
Furthermore, the Charter Revision Commission increased the amount of public funds available, from 55% of the spending cap to 75%, and required the CFB to make matching funds available to candidates starting in February of the election year.
Initially, these changes put forth by the Charter Revision Commission were set to take effect with the 2021 elections, to allow CFB staff to prepare thoroughly for implementation of these significant changes to the Program. Local Law 1 of 2019, sponsored by Councilmember Ben Kallos, put these changes in place for February’s special election for public advocate as well as all elections leading up to 2021. Ultimately, the Board paid $7.2 million in matching funds to 11 candidates for that election—all but one of whom chose the new ($8-to-$1) system.
Recent changes in state election law also require to us to take action earlier than in previous years. With the consolidated primary election date now in June, part of this year’s budget reflects our ongoing preparations to accommodate an earlier election cycle.
As we analyze the impact of these changes and assess the substantial administrative work that will be required to implement them, we are continuing to perform our audits for campaigns from the 2017 election cycle. Our improved audit process is already yielding results more efficiently. To date, we’ve completed 35 percent of all audits for candidates in the 2017 elections. For reference, at this point in 2015, we had completed 19 percent of the audits for the 2013 elections.
Fiscal Year 2020 Budget
The CFB’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 that was submitted to the Mayor and included in his executive budget is $28 million. Since we submitted the budget to the Mayor, and in preparing for this testimony, we have identified approximately $500,000 in OTPS costs that can be eliminated. This is from a combination of delaying some projects and proactively looking for cost reductions.
The largest increase in this year’s budget is due to our citywide print Voter Guide for this year’s general election, which is expected to include ballot proposals from the 2019 Charter Revision Commission. We have also budgeted for a potential print Guide for the June primary election next year. This funding will also cover a robust citywide advertising campaign for the Voter Guide. Additionally, we will publish an online Voter Guide for the 2020 presidential, federal, and state primary races. We’re also including $250,000 for upgrades to the Voter Guide Submission Application, in order to streamline and improve the user experience for candidates submitting their profiles for the Voter Guide.
As we continue to seek ways to better engage New Yorkers with limited English proficiency in our elections, we have allocated $570,000 in our budget for translation services, to make our materials available to more New Yorkers in a broader range of languages.
This budget also includes unavoidable increases, including $300,000 for an anticipated rent increase. Personnel cost increases reflect salary increases from new union contracts and longevity increases.
As mentioned earlier, the Program has undergone a number of changes in the past year—even as we begin preparations for the largest election our Program has seen. It is inevitable that the workload will increase, and additional staff will be necessary to meet the demands of the 2021 elections. The FY2020 budget includes new staff to help administer the Program—specifically in Candidate Guidance, which will help more candidates navigate the Program efficiently, Audit, and Document Processing.
We will also be converting some of our existing Systems staff from seasonal roles to permanent lines. This is to help implement the legislative changes over the past year that will require changes to our systems and overhauls of our internal software.
Given the historic volume of candidates we expect in the 2021 election cycle, we want to ensure that we are taking every administrative step to make the process as smooth as possible for candidates.
Before concluding, I would like to draw your attention to our 2018-2019 Voter Analysis Report, which was delivered to all members of the City Council at the end of April. The report highlights our ongoing efforts to increase turnout in New York City, as well as an in-depth analysis of turnout and registration rates across the city. Our findings in this report will serve as a basis for our outreach moving forward.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.