New Report Details Expanded Role of Public Matching Funds in NYC's 2021 Elections


More than $126 million in public funds paid to 308 candidates for city offices

The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) released today a comprehensive report providing detailed analysis of the role the City's public matching funds program played in the historic 2021 elections. Read the full report and see our data visualizations here.

Participation in the matching funds program increased significantly, across the board, in 2021 with 308 candidates receiving $126,917,515 in matching funds payments. Candidates raised a record number of contributions, more than 70% of which came from New York City residents. Roughly 80% of all contributions raised were small contributions of $250 or less.

Candidates were more likely to participate in the matching funds program in 2021. Nearly 94% of candidates on the primary ballot participated in the program, up from 84% in 2017.

"By every available metric, the 2021 elections were the largest in the history of New York City's matching funds program," said NYC Campaign Finance Board Chair Frederick Schaffer. "Participation in the matching funds program reached record levels, and more candidates received matching funds payments than ever before. Under these unique conditions, New York City voters elected a government that is more representative of the people of this city."

Public Funds Paid in the Primary & General Elections - 2021, 2017, 2013
Bar chart displaying public funds paid in the primary election in blue and the general election in red for the 2021, 2017, and 2013 election years.

The increases in candidates qualifying for matching funds payments and the amounts paid out were driven primarily by changes to the law adopted since 2017. The 2017 Post Election Report (PER) recommended three changes to the matching funds program which were subsequently adopted by the 2018 Charter Revision Commission: to reduce contribution limits, to increase the matching rate candidates for citywide offices could receive for small contributions, and to increase the total amounts candidates could receive in matching funds payments. All three changes were overwhelmingly approved by voters via referendum in November 2018 and updated by the City Council in 2019.





# of matching funds program participants




# of non-participants




# of candidates on the ballot




% of candidates on the ballot program participants




# of program participants paid 




% of participants paid out of participants




$ public funds paid




% of public funds paid to first-time payees




# of first time payees




% of first time payees out of participants




# of participants “maxing out” (received maximum public funds payment)




% of participants maxing out of participants paid





First-Time Payees

The report compares candidates who received public matching funds payments for the first time to veteran candidates and finds that there is no clear advantage to being a program veteran:

  • First-time payees and veterans raised about the same amount in contributions
  • In percentage terms, there was no significant difference between first-time payees and veterans receiving maximum public matching funds payments
  • The majority of first-time payees come from areas of the City that are already highly privileged (whiter, wealthier, more educated neighborhoods)
  • The majority of districts with the largest percentage of candidates not qualifying for public matching funds payments are in upper Manhattan and outlying areas of other boroughs

NYC Votes Contribute, the one-of-a-kind application built by the CFB as a service for candidates, helped campaigns adjust to the massive disruptions to fundraising brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Contribute app allows candidates to raise credit card contributions that meet CFB-specific requirements. This aligns with the CFB's goal to reduce barriers to running for office, particularly for women and candidates of color who face systemic challenges.

In 2021, credit card contributions accounted for more than 86% of individual contributions raised, far surpassing all other contribution methods. Nearly 94% of candidates used the Contribute app.

Independent Expenditures

Spending by independent expenditure groups jumped significantly in 2021. Independent spenders shelled out $40.7 million, more than double the amount spent by outside groups during the 2013 city elections.

Most of the independent spending - $31.8 million, or 78% of the total - went towards the Mayoral race. This was also a departure from the 2013 elections when just $8 million, or half of the total spent by independent spenders, went towards the mayoral race.

One of the most significant developments in the 2021 elections was the rise of single candidate independent expenditure groups. Entities created to support a single candidate have been increasingly common at the federal level. They have been less common in city elections, but the practice flourished in 2021. Single-candidate entities accounted for 77% of the independent spending in the mayoral race and 60% of spending overall.

Each of the top seven mayoral candidates by spending received support from a single-candidate. One group, New Start NYC, spent more during the Democratic primary ($6.5 million) than the candidate's campaign itself (Shaun Donovan - $4.9 million). As the Board noted during the election, single-candidate independent spenders pose a "particular challenge" to the goals of NYC's matching funds program.

Policy and Legislative Recommendations

This report includes two recommendations on how the State Legislature can change the state Election Law to enhance transparency and protect the integrity of our elections.

Recommendation #1: Prohibit campaigns from receiving cryptocurrency donations

  • Cryptocurrency should not be an accepted contribution method because of the unnecessary risk it poses to our compliance and enforcement regulations.

Recommendation #2: Eliminate potential foreign influence on ballot proposals

  • Foreign entities should not be able to spend money that is unregulated on local or state ballot proposal campaigns.

The post-election report traditionally includes extensive recommendations to ensure the Campaign Finance Act continues to adapt to changes in how money is raised and spent in elections. However, due to the significant changes to the program for 2021, along with the introduction of Ranked Choice Voting and disruptions to campaigning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is prudent to wait for data from the 2023 and 2025 elections before proposing further modifications to the city's campaign finance law.