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Frequently Asked Questions
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What is the Campaign Finance Program?
New York City’s voluntary Campaign Finance Program provides public matching funds to candidates for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and City Council candidates who qualify and agree to abide by strictly enforced spending limits. All candidates for these offices — whether or not they choose to join the Program — must adhere to New York City contribution limits, and disclose exactly where contributions come from and how their funds are spent. This information is audited and made available to the public through the CFB’s searchable online database. For more information on contribution limits, candidate spending limits, and requirements for candidates, click here.
How do New York City residents benefit from the public financing of campaigns?
Public financing of campaigns has several important benefits to both candidates and taxpayers. First, it makes candidates and elected officials more responsive to citizens, rather than to special interests, wealthy donors, and corporations. The importance of smaller contributions is enhanced because contributions under $175 from New York City residents become worth six times more with public matching funds. Public financing also helps credible, often grassroots and insurgent candidates, who may not have access to “big money”, run competitive campaigns. Taxpayers are also rewarded with candidates who have more time to reach out to voters and talk about issues, as opposed to spending their time fundraising.
How does a candidate get public matching funds?
In exchange for abiding by strict spending limits, candidates may be eligible to have contributions from individual New York City residents matched with taxpayer dollars. The Program matches each dollar a New York City resident gives, up to $175 per contributor, with $6 in public funds, for a maximum of $1,050 in public funds per contributor. To qualify for public funds, candidates must be in compliance with all Program requirements, be on the ballot, have an opponent on the ballot, and meet a two-part financial threshold that demonstrates a basic level of community support.
On what do campaigns spend taxpayer money?
Candidates who accept public funds must agree to some limits on their use. The law allows a candidate to spend their money only on purposes that directly help their campaigns. These include campaign-related literature, compliance, petitions, mailings, election workers, postage, professional services such as consultants, printing and other uses that may benefit their candidacy.
How does the CFB monitor campaign spending and fundraising?
The Campaign Finance Program requires candidates to abide by strict rules, which necessitate diligent and conscientious record keeping. Every campaign is audited by the CFB to ensure that campaigns correctly disclose all financial activity. Those campaigns that receive public funds are given extra attention to ensure that the public’s tax dollars were used appropriately. In some cases, failure to keep proper records or respond adequately to requests for information during the audit may cause the CFB to assess penalties or require that public funds be returned.
Does the CFB offer assistance to help campaigns understand the rules of the Program?
The CFB’s Candidate Services Unit is available to answer any questions campaigns have about the Program, and to assist candidates in complying with the Program rules. In addition, the Candidate Services Unit frequently runs hands-on Program compliance seminars that include training in C-SMART (Candidate Software for Managing and Reporting Transactions), which the CFB provides to campaigns free of charge.
Do candidates who decide not to participate in the Program have the same requirements?
All campaigns, whether or not they join the Program, are required to disclose their financial activity to the CFB. In addition, all candidates must adhere to strict contribution limits and to the CFB’s ban on contributions from corporations, LLCs and partnerships. Non-participating candidates, who are not eligible to receive public funds, are not subject to the CFB’s expenditure limits.
Can a candidate in the Program spend their own money on a campaign?
The Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory spending restrictions on self-funded candidates are unconstitutional. When a candidate joins the Campaign Finance Program, they are limited to giving only three times the individual contribution limit to his or her own campaign. In 2004, the City Council created a candidate category called “limited participant”, who are candidates that are entirely self-funded and agree to adhere to Program spending limits. This category recognizes that some candidates may simply wish not to accept contributions or the strings that may be — or appear to be — attached to them. The limited participant does not trigger the bonus matching rate for his or her opponents, saving the city money. Limited Participants are also eligible to take part in the CFB’s official Debate Program.
Where can I find information about campaign contributions and spending?
Information on campaign contributions and spending is available on the Board’s fully searchable online database. The information in the database is updated every day, and twice daily on days campaigns are required to file their financial statements. Information contained in the database includes:
What is an “intermediary” or “bundler”?
An intermediary, also known as a “bundler”, is an individual who solicits, collects or delivers campaign donations from multiple contributors. Campaigns are required to notify the Campaign Finance Board when a contribution has been raised through an intermediary. New York City is one of the few jurisdictions nationwide that requires disclosure of intermediaries.
Is information on penalties made public?
The CFB maintains a list of candidates who have outstanding debts to the Board, including penalties assessed for violations of the Campaign Finance Act and public funds repayment obligations. Each campaign’s final audit, including any determination of penalties, is made available on the CFB website. Guidelines used by the Board to determine penalties are also on the website. Click here to view the penalty report from the 2005 citywide elections, which shows candidate penalties and/or outstanding debts.
Who is prohibited from contributing to a candidate?
Contributions from corporations, limited liability companies (“LLCs”), or limited liability partnerships (“LLPs”) are prohibited under all circumstances. Contributions from residents outside of New York City, campaign vendors, political committees that are registered with the CFB, unions, non-incorporated businesses, trust funds, and business accounts are accepted but are not matched with public funds. Recent legislation severely limits contributions from individuals that do business with the city, and these contribution are not matched with public funds, nor do they count toward the threshold requirements for participants in the Program. All others are permitted and encouraged to give to candidates they support, as long as their contributions do not exceed the individual limit for that office.
What is the New York City Voter Guide and where can I find it?
The Voter Guide is a unique, nonpartisan resource published by the CFB and distributed free to every household with a registered voter in New York City before regularly scheduled municipal elections. The Voter Guide helps citizens make informed decisions on Election Day by publishing profiles submitted by candidates running for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and City Council. Every candidate has the opportunity to submit biographical information, positions on issues, and a picture, free of charge. The CFB publishes the Voter Guide in both English and Spanish, and, in certain election districts, also distributes it in Chinese and/or Korean. In addition, the Voter Guide contains information on ballot proposals, how and where to vote, how to register, and election dates. The Voter Guide is available throughout the five boroughs at public libraries, borough halls, homeless shelters, certain YMCA’s, various college campuses, and on our website. Click here for more information about the Voter Guide.
What is the CFB’s Debate Program?
In December 1996, the New York City Council passed a law requiring candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Program who are running for citywide office (mayor, public advocate, and comptroller) to participate in a series of debates before both the primary and general elections. The law ensures that citizens are provided the opportunity to see candidates face each other in nonpartisan forums that allow for substantive discussion of the issues. Candidates deemed “leading contenders” must participate in a second debate before the election. Candidates who are not participating in the Program may be invited to debate, but are not required to take part. Although the Debate Program is administered by the CFB, the debates themselves are sponsored by various media, educational, and civic groups and are broadcast on television and radio citywide. Debates for the 2009 elections will be held beginning in August of that year. A schedule of these debates will be posted in the summer of preceding the election.
Where can potential candidates find information about joining the Program?
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