An opinion has been requested by a candidate participating in the Campaign Finance Program ("Program"), established by the New York City Campaign Finance Act ("Act"), in a special election to fill a City Council vacancy. The candidate presents the following questions:
1) Has a candidate, who has met the threshold requirement for qualifying for public matching funds in a 1991 special election, also thereby met the threshold for the 1991 primary and general elections for the same Council seat?
2) May an uncontested special election candidate claim public matching funds in the 1991 primary and general elections for matchable contributions raised for the special election?
1) To be eligible for public matching funds, a candidate in the Program must raise a threshold dollar amount of matchable contributions. New York City Administrative Code §3-703(1) (j), (2) (a) 1. A candidate who has met the threshold in a "primary election" for an office covered by the Act is "deemed to have met the threshold... for such office in any other election held in the same calendar year." Administrative Code §3-703(2) (b). (Emphasis added.) No such provision is made for candidates meeting the threshold in a special election.
A special election, and a primary and general election, are completely separate procedures for choosing a candidate to fill an elective office. A primary election is merely one step (party nomination) in the process of electing a candidate to office in the general election. In contrast, in a non-partisan special election to fill a vacancy in the City Council, held pursuant to New York City Charter §25(b), a candidate's nomination and election is concluded in a single election. A candidate's legal qualification to be on the ballot in a special election has no bearing on whether the candidate will meet the legal requirements to be on the ballot again in the following primary or general election.
The Act's threshold requirements recognize that the special election and the primary and general election processes are entirely separate. The purpose of the threshold is to show that a candidate has significant public support. Candidates who have demonstrated this support by meeting the threshold in a primary election need not make the demonstration again in the following general election because the primary is part of the process for electing the candidate in the general election. The financial support the candidate received in the special election, however, was for an election to office held at a different time, perhaps months or years before the next primary election. This previous support is not indicative of current support in the primary or general election, in which new candidates may have emerged and in which voters will be considering filling the office for a full term.
The Act also contains different definitions for the "matchable contributions" that comprise the special election threshold and those that comprise the primary and general election threshold. Contributions of up to one thousand dollars may be applied toward the primary and general election threshold, while the special election threshold may include only contributions of up to five hundred dollars. See Administrative Code §3-702(3) 2.
Furthermore, special election candidates who choose to join the Program must do so by a special deadline and agree to be bound by its legal requirements only for the special election. Administrative Code §3-703(1) (c) (iii). In contrast, a different deadline applies to candidates joining the Program for the primary and general elections, Administrative Code §3-703(1) (c) (i), (ii), and these candidates are automatically bound by Program requirements in both the primary and general elections. Administrative Code §3-703(3).
A candidate who met the threshold for a special election, and who subsequently joins the Program for the following primary and general elections, must therefore reach a separate threshold in order to qualify for public matching funds in those elections.
2) "Surplus funds" are defined as the "unspent funds held by a candidate and his or her authorized committees after an election." Campaign Finance Board Rule 1-02. Campaign Finance Board rules allow a candidate to spend surplus funds in a subsequent election in which the candidate is participating in the Program, subject to certain limitations. See Campaign Finance Board Rule 1-07. A participant may not, however, claim surplus funds that are attributed to previous contributions as matchable contributions. Campaign Finance Board Rule 1-07(f).
The matchable contribution definition, as noted above, distinguishes contributions for a special election from primary and general election contributions3. With respect to the primary and general elections, a prior special election is a previous election for which a surplus funds calculation must be performed pursuant to Rule 1-07(a), if the candidate joins the Program for the primary and general elections. See also Rule 1-02, defining "surplus funds." In the case of a candidate who participated in the Program in the special election and wishes to spend surplus funds in the primary and general elections, the Board will attribute the surplus funds left over from the special election to previous contributions and other receipts. Rule 1-07(b). This attribution permits the candidate to spend the surplus funds subject to the Act's contribution limits. Rule 1-07(d). Because attributed surplus funds from the special election are not contributions actually made for the primary and general elections, however, these funds may not be claimed as matchable contributions in the primary and general elections. Administrative Code §3-702(3); Rule 1-07(e).
NEW YORK CITY CAMPAIGN FINANCE BOARD
1 Although this section refers to the threshold "in a primary or general election", the legislative intent is clear that special election candidates must meet the same threshold eligibility requirements.
3 This distinction between primary and general election, and special election, contributions is also made in the Act's contribution limits, Administrative Code §3-703(1) (f), and the rules requiring separate bank accounts. Rule 2-06(b),(d).