What is meant by "doing business"?
Contributions from individuals associated with entities doing business with city government are strictly limited in order to reduce the potential for, and appearance of, “pay-to-play” corruption. The city’s Doing Business Database (DBDB) lists these individuals and their associated entities. The DBDB is available to the public, and campaigns can check there to see whether their contributors are listed.
Business dealings with the city include engaging in, applying for, or holding any of the following:
Pension fund investment contracts
Economic development agreements
Real property agreements
Land use actions
The regulations apply to certain individuals associated with those entities:
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or its equivalent
Chief Operating Officer (COO) or its equivalent
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or its equivalent
Anyone who owns or controls more than 10% of the entity
Senior managers who, whether by title or duties, have high level supervisory capacity in which substantial discretion and oversight is exercised in business transactions with the city
Lobbyists required to register with the City Clerk are also covered.
Under a separate law, contributions from a spouse, domestic partner, unemancipated children, and employees of registered lobbyists are not eligible to be matched with public funds. These individuals are required to be listed on the lobbyist registration, but are not included in the DBDB nor are they subject to doing business contribution limits.
What does it have to do with running for office?
The law affects all candidates running for city office because contributions from individuals listed in the DBDB are subject to lower contribution limits, are not eligible for matching public funds, and do not count towards the public funds threshold.
What sort of restrictions apply to contributions from individuals in the database?
Contributions from anyone in the DBDB will not be matched with public funds. In addition, individuals in the database are subject to lower contribution limits, which vary by office:
||Doing Business Contribution Limit
Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller
What is a Doing Business Notification?
After you file a disclosure statement, the CFB will review your campaign’s contributions to ensure compliance with New York City’s doing business law. The CFB will notify your campaign of over-the-limit doing business contributions within 20 calendar days. You will then have 20 days to issue a refund for the overage and provide documentation to the CFB. In the six weeks preceding an election, the CFB will notify your campaign within three business days, but you still have 20 days to respond. No extensions can be granted for responding to a doing business notification.
The notification will consist of the Aggregate Contributions Over the Doing Business Office Limit report. This report lists each contribution over the doing business limit, including the contributor’s name, the contribution amount, and the required refund. Sometimes there are multiple small contributions that, together, exceed the limit.
There will also be an explanation of the report and response requirements.
How will I get the Doing Business Notification?
If you have doing business contributions over the applicable limit, you will receive a notification via C-Access. Once the notification is posted to your account, you will receive an email from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: to ensure you get the email, add this address to your list of email contacts.
How Do I Respond?
You must issue a refund to the contributor for the excess amount. You may also have to withdraw a matching claim in C-SMART. Refunds must be:
Issued using a certified or bank check; and
Entered into C-SMART.
You must respond to the CFB with copies of the refund check(s) labeled with the transaction ID within 20 days. You may send them as attachments to DoingBusiness@nyccfb.info or faxed to (212) 409-1705 (Attn: Doing Business).
If you fail to issue a refund, the CFB may deduct the excess contributions from future public funds payments, and may assess penalties to your campaign.
Will this be part of the regular reviews that the CFB sends to each campaign (statement reviews)?
No. Campaigns will receive regular statement reviews separate from the Doing Business Notifications.
How does the CFB match data in the Doing Business Database to contributor information?
The CFB uses an automated system to identify potential matches of contributors to individuals in the DBDB. Each match is individually assessed, using information reported by the campaign and the information in the DBDB. If a match is unclear, the individual is researched further so that the CFB can be as certain as possible that the contributor is in the DBDB.
How will someone know if a contributor has business dealings with the city?
Campaigns can look up contributors in the DBDB. If a contribution from an individual exceeds the doing business limit, campaigns must also ask the contributor to complete a Doing Business Contributor Form. This can be part of the contribution card or a separate document. The CFB’s contribution card template includes space for contributors to provide required information regarding their doing business status. It also includes detailed information about doing business regulations.
If the campaign designs its own contribution card, it must contain the phrase “If a contributor has business dealings with the City as defined in the Campaign Finance Act, such contributor may contribute only up to $250 for city council, $320 for borough president, and $400 for mayor, comptroller, or public advocate.” It must also include space for the contributor to provide information about its doing business status.
What should a campaign do if it thinks a contributor is not the person who is in the Doing Business Database?
The more complete and accurate the campaign’s reporting of contributor information, the less likely a mismatch is to occur. However, if a campaign believes a contributor has been incorrectly matched with a person in the DBDB, it must provide the CFB with records or data that would indicate the contributor is different than the one in the DBDB. The campaign could also send the CFB a signed statement from the contributor, asserting that s/he is not the individual in the DBDB and is not associated with the doing business entity in any capacity. Such a statement would only cause the CFB to reevaluate the match but cannot function as a request for removal (see below).
Because people may be in the DBDB in connection with organizations that do not employ them, simply stating that the contributor works for a different employer than the doing business entity is not sufficient. An example of a possible mismatch is a case where two individuals have the same name but different suffixes (e.g., Jr. and Sr.) and are reported without the suffix in either the DBDB or the campaign’s reporting.
What if a contributor is in the Doing Business Database but tells the campaign s/he isn’t doing business with the city?
People may be in the DBDB from relationships other than paid employment. The contributor should contact the entity that has listed him/her in the DBDB to be removed. If this is unsuccessful and the contributor is in the DBDB for any reason except lobbying, s/he should complete and submit a Removal Request Form to the Doing Business Accountability Project at 212-788-8104 or DoingBusiness@cityhall.nyc.gov. The CFB will be notified when a removal occurs. If the contributor is in the DBDB as a lobbyist and thinks that s/he should not be, s/he should contact the Office of the City Clerk at 212-699-8171.
What doing business contribution limit is used by the CFB for a candidate who has not declared what office s/he is seeking?
Until you declare an office, the CFB will notify you of contributions exceeding the lowest doing business limit, which is $250. Although the CFB does not advise it, candidates may accept contributions up to the $400 limit while undeclared. If you decide to run for an office with a lower doing business limit, you risk non-compliance and must issue refunds of all contributions over-the-limit within 20 days of your office declaration (see Advisory Opinion No. 2010-3).
Any deductions or penalties will be based on the applicable limit for the office you eventually seek.
What if the CFB says a contributor is in the Doing Business Database but the campaign can't find him/her there?
Contact the CFB. If contributors were in the DBDB at the time of their contributions, but are no longer doing business at the time of notification, then they will not appear in the public DBDB. However these contributors are still subject to the contribution limits.
In other cases, the campaign may look for contributors in the DBDB at the time of the contribution and not find them, only to be later notified by the CFB that they were doing business at the time. This may occur because the DBDB is updated once a month, it may take several weeks for new listings to appear.
What if the contributor who is doing business is the candidate or a close family member of the candidate?
Contributions from the candidate or the candidate’s parent, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, grandchild, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece or nephew by blood or marriage are not subject to the doing business limits.
Does the law apply to in-kind contributions?
Yes. In-kind contributions of goods or services are subject to the same contribution limits as monetary contributions.
What if someone who is not in the Doing Business Database gives a campaign a contribution up to the regular contribution limit, and then later becomes the officer of a firm that gets a city contract? What happens to that contribution?
The law is not retroactive. If the person was not considered to be doing business at the time of the contribution, the campaign may keep the contribution, provided that doing so does not violate any other part of the Campaign Finance Act.
What are examples of cases where people might think they are doing business but they are not?
An individual will not be considered doing business with the city merely because s/he:
- works for the city;
- drives a city taxi;
- hires a lobbyist;
- seeks permits for his or her 1, 2, or 3 family home;
- applies for street permits, including parades, processionals, or street fairs; or
- other kinds of similar individual activities with the city.
What transactions are included in the doing business regulations?
Contracts, Concessions and Franchises: proposing on or holding $100,000 in goods or services contracts (including contracts for the underwriting of city debt and the retention of any bond, disclosure, or underwriter’s counsel), $500,000 in construction contracts, or $100,000 in concessions or franchises; or being awarded $100,000 in City Council or borough president discretionary allocations.
Contracts of $5,000 or less, publically-advertised competitive sealed bids, and emergency contracts do not count toward these thresholds.
Grants: receiving grants totaling $100,000. Grants of $5,000 or less do not count towards this threshold.
Economic development agreements: applying for or receiving an economic development agreement, which offers financial incentives in return for the development, attraction or retention of business, including payments in lieu of taxes and tax incentives. Incentives qualified for by operation of law are excluded.
Contracts for the investment of pension funds: proposing on or holding a contract for the investment of pension funds including any investment in a private equity firm and any contract with an investment-related consultant.
Real property transactions: the purchase, sale, or lease of real property with or by the city, including office space, or any application or proposal for the same. Transactions awarded by public auction or competitive sealed bid are excluded. Certain transactions including affordable housing are also covered.
Land use actions: land use applications subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) under City Charter §197c and any application for leases (§195) or zoning changes (§201). Applications for zoning changes involving owner-occupants of 1, 2, or 3 family homes are excluded, as are permits.
Lobbyists: any firm or person required to register as a lobbyist with the Office of the City Clerk, including placement agents. This does not include entities that hire a lobbyist.
How long will an entity and its associated people remain listed on the Doing Business Database?
Economic development agreement applicants are covered from the application date to when the award is made. Successful applicants are covered until the end of the agreement, plus one year.
Franchise proposers are covered for one year from the proposal submission date. If the entity receives the franchise, it is included for one year from the commencement or renewal of the franchise.
Contract and concession proposers are covered for one year from the date of the proposal or bid submission. If the entity receives the award, it will be covered for the period of the contract, plus one year.
Grant holders are covered for one year from the commencement of the grant.
Pension fund investment proposers are covered from the earlier of the presentation of investment opportunity or the submission of a proposal, to when the award is made. Successful proposers are covered through the term of the transaction plus one year.
Proposers on real property transactions are covered from the proposal date to when a decision is made. Lessors of the city are covered through the lease term, plus one year. Lessees of the city and entities that buy or sell real property are covered for one year from the date the real property agreement is finalized.
Land use action applicants are generally covered from the date of certification (§197c) or application (most §195 actions) to when the City Council files its action with the Mayor, plus 120 days. Actions under §201 are covered from certification through the City Council filing date. When the city is leasing office space under §195, coverage runs from application through lease agreement, plus one year.
Lobbyists are included whenever they are listed on a lobbying registration.
The contents of the DBDB are determined by the Doing Business Accountability Project of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS). For questions about whether or for how long an entity should be included in the DBDB, contact MOCS at 212-788-8104 or DoingBusiness@cityhall.nyc.gov.