There have been many changes to the law since the CFB was established in 1988. Learn more about the evolution of the CFB and key milestones in the Campaign Finance Program and Voter Engagement Initiatives.
As a result of several corruption scandals, a series of ethics reforms is enacted, most notably the Campaign Finance Act. Through a city referendum, NYC voters approved a Charter revision establishing the Campaign Finance Board (CFB). The independent, nonpartisan agency is charged with limiting the role and influence of private money in the political process by providing public matching funds to candidates running for city office. The CFB is also mandated to publish a voter guide and provide public disclosure of campaign finance information.
The Board disburses $4.5 million in public matching funds, matching private contributions from NYC residents at a rate of $1-to-$1 (up to the first $1,000 per contributor), to 36 candidates in the citywide elections. The first Voter Guide is published in English and Spanish, and distributed to nearly 3 million households in NYC.
In response to feedback from candidates, the Candidate Services Unit (CSU) is created. CSU works closely with campaigns, explaining the way the Program works, and helps campaigns comply with the law.
Nearly $6.5 million in public matching funds is paid to 65 participating candidates. The CFB creates software (C-SMART) to assist candidates in organizing and filing their financial disclosures electronically. The Voter Guide is expanded to include printings in Chinese. New York City voters approve term limits by referendum, limiting all city office holders to two terms (four years per term).
Legislation is enacted requiring Program participants running for citywide offices to participate in a series of public debates as a condition of receiving public matching funds.
Over $6.9 million in public matching funds is distributed to 85 candidates. The CFB’s website launches in July, providing instantaneous access to campaign finance disclosure and other candidate information.
Through legislation and a citywide referendum, contribution limits are reduced, a ban is placed on corporate contributions, and the public matching funds rate changes from $1-to-$1 for the first $1,000 per contributor to $4-to-$1 for the first $250 per contributor.
With term limits creating an unprecedented number of open seats, a historic number of candidates join the Program, taking advantage of the new, more generous matching rate. Over $42 million in public matching funds is distributed to 199 participants. The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th force a postponement of primary elections and displace CFB employees from their office. Despite working from a temporary office at Fordham University, the CFB responds successfully to the needs of hundreds of first-time candidates. A searchable database is added to the CFB website, allowing the public and press to view and sort data on campaign fundraising and spending.
New legislation expands the CFB disclosure requirements to all candidates despite their participation status in the Program. All candidates are also subject to the CFB’s contribution limits and ban on corporate contributions. The new law creates a category called “limited participant” for candidates who wish to participate in the Program, but fund their campaigns with personal money.
Over $24 million in public matching funds is paid to 108 participants. The CFB makes significant changes to the Voter Guide, making it more accessible and easier to read. CFB debates are broadcast in Spanish, Chinese, and Korean for the first time.
New legislation establishes that contributions from lobbyists, their spouses, and domestic partners are no longer eligible to be matched with public funds.
New legislation severely restricts contributions from people who do business with the city and prohibits contributions from LLCs and partnerships. The public matching funds rate changes from $4-to-$1 up to the first $250 per contributor to $6-to-$1 up to the first $175 per contributor.
In the 2009 elections, $28.0 million is paid to 140 participating candidates. Despite the extension of term limits in 2008, the elections are very competitive, with a narrow general election margin in the mayor’s race, vigorous open-seat races for public advocate and comptroller, and five Council challengers defeating incumbents in primaries.
In Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal limits on political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions are unconstitutional. Voters overwhelmingly approve an amendment to the NYC Charter that requires independent expenditures in city elections to be disclosed and reported to the CFB. The November 2010 Charter revision also reconstituted the independent Voter Assistance Commission (VAC) within the CFB as the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee (VAAC). The Voter Assistance Unit is created to implement the voter engagement mandates to the CFB by the Charter.
The U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision in McComish v. Bennett. The decision finds that “bonus” matching funds provided to candidates in Arizona’s public financing system who faced high-spending opponents or outside spending campaigns are unconstitutional. As a result, bonus funds in New York City’s system are no longer available to candidates facing high-spending non-participants.
After an unprecedented yearlong process of public comment, the CFB adopts rules implementing the mandate for disclosure of independent expenditures.
Legislation enacted in early 2013 amends the Charter’s requirement to disclose independent expenditures, exempting “membership communications” from disclosure. During the 2013 citywide elections, $38.2 million is paid to 149 participating candidates. For the first time since the matching rate was increased in 1998, a participating candidate is elected mayor. The CFB launches NYC Votes Contribute, an online credit card processing platform that candidates for city office can use to collect donations from New Yorkers. The printed Voter Guide is distributed in Bengali for the first time, and the CFB produces its first video Voter Guide, which is televised the week prior to the election as well as integrated into the online Guide.
Legislation is adopted to strengthen the requirements for disclosure of independent expenditures in New York City elections. The new law requires spenders to list their top three contributors on their communications, and to disclose more details about their largest contributors, making it more difficult for the ultimate funders to shield their identity from public view. New legislation is passed requiring candidates to include “paid for by” notices on all their communications, which bans anonymous communications from city elections.
The CFB launches the candidate consultation program in 2015 which supports candidate campaigns by offering scheduled one-on-one meetings to review campaign matters.
The New York City Council passes a series of bills amending the Campaign Finance Act, including Local Law 67, eliminating matching funds for people doing business with the city, and Local Law 171, prohibiting contributions from unregistered political committees.
The CFB launches the new Follow the Money search tool for its database, including new Independent Expenditure search functions, providing voters with greater transparency about who funds and donates to campaigns. Eligible candidates received $17.7 million in public funds payments in the 2017 citywide elections, and for the second election cycle in a row, both major party nominees for mayor participated in the matching funds program.
New York City voters approve a ballot measure that increases the public matching funds rate from $6-to-$1 to $8-to-$1, with up to $175 per contributor being matched for candidates running for borough president and City Council, and up to $250 for candidates seeking citywide office.
New York City voters approve a ballot measure authorizing the use of Ranked Choice Voting in primary and special elections to elect the city offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council. The CFB kickstarts an information campaign for the newly approved voting method.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency and issues a series of executive orders, one of which allows all New Yorkers to request absentee ballots for 2020 elections. The CFB modifies and creates new outreach methods to ensure that voters stay up to date on COVID-related changes to city elections.
The CFB develops a campaign introducing New Yorkers to Ranked Choice Voting by coordinating with government, non-profits, advocacy organizations, and community-based groups on messaging and education. New York City voters use Ranked Choice Voting for the first time ever in a primary election. In the general election, New York City voters elect the most diverse City Council in history, with 96% participating in the Matching Funds Program. Over the course of the 2021 elections, $126.9 million in public funds was paid to 308 candidates, matching nearly $18.3 million in contributions from New Yorkers.
The CFB is required to publish print and online voter guides in English and each of the 10 designated citywide languages, as Local Law 48-2022 is enacted. The agency’s voter engagement initiative, NYC Votes, migrates its website to nycvotes.org in 13 languages. On a statewide level, Governor Hochul signs the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York into law to expand voter access. The New York State Public Campaign Finance Program launches.
The New York City Districting Commission’s newly drawn City Council district maps are approved for use in the 2023 City Council elections and over the next decade.