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Ballot Issues ’98

Possible Ballot Proposal:
Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

Will this Proposal Appear on the Ballot?
A lawsuit has been filed in New York State Supreme Court to determine whether this proposal will appear on the ballot. Updated information will be posted here as it is available.

Remember, it is always a good idea to check the sample ballot at your polling place.

Decision: On October 9, 1998, State Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Gangel-Jacob issued a decision that keeps the Citizens’ Petition on campaign finance reform off the ballot. On October 16, an appeals court affirmed Justice Gangel-Jacob’s decision. The proponents of the Citizens’ Petition are seeking to appeal. Subsequently, the New York Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal. If there are any further developments, updated information will be posted here as it becomes available.

Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

In July and September, petitions were submitted to the City Clerk to put a Charter amendment on the ballot. This proposal will become law only if it is approved by the voters. Depending on the result of ongoing lawsuits, it is possible that this proposal may be omitted from the ballot entirely.

In 1988, the New York City Campaign Finance Act was adopted, providing for a voluntary “Campaign Finance Program (Program”) covering the offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council member. The Act established the Campaign Finance Board (“CFB” or “Board”) to administer this new program. The New York City Charter was amended that same year to include the CFB in the Charter and to require it to publish the Voter Guide. The current system requires participating campaigns to abide by contribution and spending limits and to meet other qualifications set by law in return for which these campaigns may receive public funds. The public funds are given to candidates on the basis of a formula that matches the contributions they receive from individual New York City residents.

Under the new proposal, core aspects of the City’s existing program would be restated in the Charter. The Charter (in addition to current local law) would require that there be a public campaign financing program for candidates for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council member who comply with contribution limits, spending limits, and the other qualifications set by law. Current law would be changed to require the City to provide public funds equal to 80 percent of the candidate’s spending limit to each candidate who collects a set amount of private contributions and would allow the candidate to receive no more than 20 percent of the spending limit in private contributions. (There is now no requirement that the amount in public funds received by a candidate be equal to any particular portion of that candidate’s spending limit or total campaign funds.)

The proposal would increase the funds needed for public financing of campaigns. If necessary, these additional funds would be raised by proportionally reducing the funding for the offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council member.

If you believe the Charter chapter on campaign finance should be changed as described, you should vote “yes” on this proposal. If you believe the Charter chapter on campaign finance should remain as is, you should vote “no” on this proposal.

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Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

At press time, the official text of this potential ballot proposal was not available.

Please refer to page 64 of the hard copy of the Voter Guide for the full text of the new law that would result from approval of this question.

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Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

At press time, the official summary of this ballot proposal was not available.

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Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

This proposal will level the playing field between candidates and reduce special interest influence in the political process.

This proposal will not necessarily level the playing field and will not reduce special interest influence in the political process.

By providing campaigns with a higher mix of public money than under present law, candidates who do not have access to large financial resources will have a greater chance of waging a competitive campaign. By limiting the amount that a campaign can receive in private money to 20% of the total it can spend, the potential influence that private interests can exert over the candidate will be reduced. A “yes” vote will encourage measures to counter any activities that could undermine this reform. Current law has not done enough to reduce special interest influence. Since large public money payments will potentially be made, a high threshold for payment will have to be set so that candidates with minimal support do not automatically receive unreasonably large amounts of public money. This will make it more difficult for smaller campaigns to receive any payments. Special interest influence will not necessarily be reduced because wealthy interests may spend “independently” in ways that cannot be regulated, and small groups could raise most or all of the allowable private funds for a candidate. This is a radical departure from a current model law that has worked well and been continually refined over 10 years.

Candidates will spend less time fundraising and more time communicating with the voters.

What sounds good in theory will be hard to do in practice.

Providing campaigns with public funds for 80% of their money means that candidates will have more time to formulate policy and to communicate with voters. If it is too easy to qualify for public funds, tax dollars will be wasted on many frivolous candidates. On the other hand, if it is hard to qualify, candidates will spend much more time fundraising.

The proposal will increase public participation in the political process.

The proposal will decrease public participation in the political process.

When citizens know that public rather than special interest money is providing the most funding for campaigns, they will take a greater interest in the political process and in voting. More citizens will make small contributions knowing that once the campaign meets the financial threshold, it will receive a large infusion of public funds. Under current law, many ordinary New Yorkers contribute to campaigns because they know that their contributions will be matched with public money. Fewer average citizens will be involved in campaigns if they lack the incentive of a public match for their contributions, and in any event fewer people will be able to contribute because the candidates will have a low limit on how many contributions can be accepted.

Any additional costs of this program will be a small investment to make for a more democratic and more efficient form of government.

The cost of this program will greatly exceed the cost of the current campaign finance system.

By reducing the role of private money in the political process, special interests will have less influence and government will be more efficient. Any increased costs will come out of the operating budgets of the City’s elected officials. Because special interest influence will not necessarily be reduced under this proposal, New Yorkers risk paying a higher price for a campaign finance system without getting any benefit. The proposal reduces the budgets of elected officials without regard to the consequences to other City programs and makes it more difficult for these officeholders to do their jobs effectively.

A broad statement of the maximum amount of private money that can fund a campaign is appropriate for inclusion in the City Charter.

Specific percentages of private and public funding of campaigns are at odds with the approach of the City’s Campaign Finance Law and should not be included in the City Charter.

The proposal leaves the details for implementing this program to subsequent legislation once it becomes a part of the Charter. Elected officials would be able to review freely how the Program is working and amend their initial legislation if they find that there would be a better way of implementing this Charter provision. They must only adhere to the 20% cap on private funding of campaigns.

We cannot expect our elected officials, the very ones who benefit from the status quo, to make such a radical change that goes against their self interest. This can only be accomplished through popular referendum.

Campaign finance reform requires constant re-evaluation and refinement. As in other jurisdictions, including at the federal level, well-meaning reforms can result in unintended consequences. Reform is best accomplished through legislation that can itself be re-evaluated and refined without going through the much more demanding process of Charter revision and referendum. The CFB is already mandated by the Charter to review the operation of the law and periodically make recommendations for change. Recent legislation passed by the City Council shows that elected officials can respond by enacting sweeping improvements in campaign finance reform laws.

This proposal does not present a greater potential for fraud.

This proposal presents a greater potential for fraud.

Although greater amounts of public money will be distributed to campaigns, the potential for fraud can be reduced through increased funding to the Campaign Finance Board’s auditing and enforcement units. Greater amounts of public money than under current law will be distributed at much faster rates and without a continual showing of entitlement from candidates. This will make fraud more tempting and more difficult to detect.

A “yes” vote would send a message to the City Council to make further changes for the better.

The proposal leaves it to the City Council to spell out the details, creating the risk of changes for the worse.

Legislation would flesh out all the details within a context that requires public funding to take the place of special interest money. Strong public support for this campaign finance reform proposal would compel the City Council to give voters what they want by way of reducing the influence of money on the electoral process and maintaining a program that encourages broad participation. The provision alone of an 80%-20% split does not say anything about how that will be accomplished. There are ways to reach the 80%-20% result that could undermine reform, such as adoption of high contribution limits or low spending limits, that would discourage candidates from joining the Program or would give incumbents unfair advantages.

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Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform



Kate Brennan
President, West Queens Independent Democratic Club

Clean Money, Clean Elections New York
Richard Schrader, Campaign Director

C. Virginia Fields
Manhattan Borough President

Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

President, West Queens Independent Democratic Club

By limiting campaign contributions and campaign spending, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Ballot Initiative will level the playing field and give rising community leaders with grassroots support a realistic chance to compete in local elections. Candidates will be able to focus on issues rather than on raising money to meet outrageous and obscene campaign costs. Elected officials will then have more freedom to represent voters rather than well-moneyed special interests. This is an important step in campaign reform much needed nation-wide.

Richard Schrader, Campaign Director

The Clean Money, Clean Elections initiative limits campaign spending and campaign contributions in New York City elections. By taking big money out of New York City elections, candidates will be able to run for office by raising issues with voters instead of raising huge contributions from big-money interests who want favors from City Hall.

Under the Clean Money system, candidates who agree to strict spending and contribution limits, including a 20% cap on private contributions, receive the balance of the spending limit in a fixed and limited amount of public funds. To the extent that additional City money is needed to pay for the system, the funds are received from making equal cuts in the budgets of the City’s elected officials. It is estimated that the cuts will be no more than 5% of the elected officials’ budgets.

Clean Money, Clean Elections will give people with good ideas and community support a fair shot at running for office. The CMCE initiative will reform the current system so that candidates won’t need great personal wealth or access to large campaign contributors to run competitive campaigns.

New York City’s current system allows wealthy campaign contributors to get big breaks and sweetheart contracts from city government. We need to limit the size of campaign contributions, so that politicians will be free to represent voters, not special interests.

Clean Money, Clean Elections is supported by more than 100 organizations and almost 1000 volunteers who collected more than 90,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. Senior citizen groups, tenant organizations, and religious, labor and business leaders are united in backing Clean Money, Clean Elections.

On Election Day, vote Yes for Clean Money, Clean Elections.

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Citizens’ Petition on Campaign Finance Reform

Manhattan Borough President

Vote “No” on the Campaign Finance Initiative

This is a good example of why complicated issues should not be decided by ballot initiatives. It’s a fine-sounding idea, until you start asking questions like: How much will it cost? Do voters really want to take money away from needed government services in order to fund the political campaigns of potentially numerous candidates? Aren’t there better ways to achieve election finance reform? Unfortunately, ballot initiatives don’t allow for that kind of informed public debate. That’s why Manhattan voters should say “no” to this initiative.

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