2017 Elections: How Matching Funds Spread the Wealth

William Fowler July 10, 2017

With two months to go before the citywide primary elections, now is a good time to check where candidates are raising the most money in NYC and highlight how the Campaign Finance Program incentivizes candidates to raise contributions from every corner of every neighborhood.

Since the matching funds program launched in 1988, city candidates have typically raised most of their money within city limits; the 2017 cycle is shaping up no differently. Thus far, two-thirds of all contributions from individuals ($15.8M) are from NYC, while one-third ($7.8M) comes from outside of the city.

Using our interactive contribution maps, we can see the zip codes within NYC where candidates are raising the most funds. Candidates are actively fundraising in nearly every zip code throughout the city. Each of the five boroughs has at least one zip code with over $100,000 in contributions (shaded dark green).

Measured in dollars, the top five fundraising zip codes are all located in Manhattan: 10021 (Upper East Side); 10065 (Lenox Hill); 10022 (Sutton Place); 10028 (Yorkville); 10023 (Upper West Side). Brooklyn placed a single zip code in the Top 10: 11210 (Midwood), which came in 10th.

At a glance, this list suggest candidates primarily raise money from Manhattan residents. However, the public matching funds program provides incentives to ensure candidates are not raising money only in the city’s wealthiest zip codes. With roughly $3.3M in small contributions from city residents thus far in the election cycle, this could translate into public funds payments of more than $20 million to qualifying candidates who meet the thresholds.

The $6-to-$1 matching funds multiply the impact of small-dollar donors, making it just as important for candidates to raise smaller contributions from residents all over the city—especially from the residents living in the districts they aspire to represent. As shown in the table below, Brooklyn zip codes like 11215 (Park Slope), 11209 (Bay Ridge), and 11238 (Prospect Heights) punch above their weight when you tabulate the number of individual contributors.

INDIVIDUALS CONTRIBUTING TO ALL CANDIDATES, TOP 10 ZIP CODES BY NO. OF CONTRIBUTORS

 

Zip Code

Individual Contributors

Avg. Contribution Amount

Neighborhood

1

10025

1,968

$198

Upper West Side

2

11215

1,604

$153

Park Slope

3

11209

1,502

$182

Bay Ridge

4

10024

1,171

$404

Upper West Side

5

10023

1,067

$447

Upper West Side

6

11201

971

$368

Brooklyn Heights

7

10011

880

$459

Chelsea

8

11238

816

$140

Prospect Heights

9

10009

814

$116

East Village

10

10016

798

$140

Kips Bay

A crowded field of candidates for City Council in District 43—where eight of ten registered candidates joined the matching funds program—has generated potentially matchable contributions from more than 1,000 residents of zip code 11209 (Bay Ridge). Note that 10009 (East Village), where voters will elect a new councilmember in District 2, has the ninth most individual contributors, 814, with an even lower average contribution amount of $116. Of the twelve registered candidates for that district, 11 joined the program.

So, how does the public matching funds program actually narrow the gap? Candidates in the program may receive $1,050 in public funds for each contribution of $175 from a city resident ($175 X 6 = $1,050). With matching funds, small-dollar donations can compete with big-money contributors. The following bar graph helps visualize this effect:

 

Within the graph, the orange bars represent the individual contribution totals for each zip code, while the blue bars represent potential matching funds associated with those contributions.

While the top 25 zip codes based on contribution amount alone are largely concentrated in Manhattan, zip codes from all five boroughs appear in the top 25 when the impact of public funds is taken into account. As a result, when public funds are included, zip codes like 10025, 11209, and 11215 with a high concentration of small donors can have a much higher impact. The matching funds help ensure that every part of the city contributes.

It’s clear from this data that public dollars go a long way in lifting the voices of regular New Yorkers by enabling candidates to focus energy on the people they aspire to represent.

Frustration with a campaign finance system at the national level that overwhelmingly favors big-money donors is one reason municipalities and states across the U.S. are adopting matching funds programs. In doing so, local governments and election reform advocates often point to the nearly three decades of evidence from New York City that shows how public matching funds encourage more competition and more equitable races in city elections.

Additional research generously provided by Steve Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.