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1997-1: Endorsements and Sponsorships by Organizations

February 25, 1997

Re: Administrative Code §3-709.5(4), (7); Op. No. 1997-1

An advisory opinion has been requested by Patrick M. Smith, Executive Vice President of Rubenstein Associates, Inc., regarding an organization's eligibility to sponsor debates mandated under the recently adopted debate law. In accordance with the new law, New York City candidates for the offices of mayor, public advocate, and comptroller who are participating in the Campaign Finance Program must participate in a series of debates. The Campaign Finance Board is charged with selecting the sponsors for the debates for each of those offices. The debates will take place before the primary election, before any runoff primary election which may be held, and before the general election.

Specifically, Mr. Smith asked "if an organization endorses candidates in 1997 Primary Elections, would that organization still be eligible to sponsor Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned debates for candidates in the 1997 General Election?" The debate law states:

organizations which are not affiliated with any political party or with any holder of or candidate for public office, which have not endorsed any candidate in the pending primary,... general, or runoff election for the city-wide office shall be eligible to sponsor one or more of the required debates.

New York City Administrative Code §3-709.5(4) (emphasis added). Thus, while organizations are precluded from sponsoring debates for an office under the Debate Program if they have endorsed a candidate for that office in the pending primary, runoff primary, or general election, they are permitted to sponsor debates that take place after the election in which the endorsement was made.

Therefore, an organization that makes an endorsement in the primary election for a City-wide office remains eligible to sponsor a general election debate among candidates for that same office, as long as that organization refrains from making an endorsement for the general election before its debate is held. Among other requirements, of course, the burden remains on the sponsoring organization in the first instance to demonstrate its ability to conduct a "fair and impartial debate." Administrative Code §3-709.5(7).