Proposal 1: Campaign Finance
This proposal would amend the City Charter to lower the amount a candidate for City elected office may accept from a contributor. It would also increase the public funding used to match a portion of the contributions received by a candidate who participates in the City’s public financing program.
In addition, the proposal would make public matching funds available earlier in the election year to participating candidates who can demonstrate need for the funds. It would also ease a requirement that candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate must meet to qualify for matching funds.
The amendments would apply to participating candidates who choose to have the amendments apply to their campaigns beginning with the 2021 primary election, and would then apply to all candidates beginning in 2022.
Shall this proposal be adopted?
Reasons to Vote "Yes"
- There is a widespread perception that large campaign contributions have a corrupting influence on elected officials. Reducing actual and perceived corruption can reduce the waste and misuse of city resources and improve public confidence in government. This can encourage voter participation and other forms of civic engagement. The proposal reduces the maximum contribution from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide races in which the candidate has elected to participate in the matching funds program. Reducing the contribution limits is the most direct way to reduce the existence and appearance of corruption.
- The proposed contribution limits are low enough to reduce the appearance of or opportunity for corruption, but still high enough to enable candidates to raise the funds they need to communicate effectively with voters and run competitive campaigns.
- Current contribution limits in New York City are higher than those for federal offices and those in many other major cities, including Los Angeles, San Antonio, and San Francisco.
- For mayoral candidates in New York City, large contributions account for a far greater proportion of private fundraising than do small contributions. Reducing the contribution limit and increasing the matching rate will diminish the power of large contributors and encourage candidates to engage a broader, more diverse set of contributors without needing to significantly increase their time spent fundraising.
- An increased public funds matching rate means that individuals making small contributions have a bigger impact on the political process.
- Making more public funds available earlier in the election year allows candidates who join the program to forgo large contributions, rely heavily on small donors and matching funds, and still run competitive campaigns. Participation rates matter because the voluntary program can achieve its goals only if a significant proportion of candidates choose to join.
- Increased access to public funds means that a larger pool of the strongest candidates, not just those who have access to their own money or to wealthy contributors, can run for office and that voters have more choices at the polls.
- Even though this will increase the cost of the Campaign Finance Program, it still represents a tiny percentage (a few hundredths of one percent) of the city’s budget.
Reasons to Vote “No”
- Reducing the amount a contributor can give may encourage wealthy contributors to direct their money to independent expenditures instead, which have no limits.
- Reduced contribution limits will require candidates to spend more time fundraising to collect the same amount and make it more difficult for candidates to compete with wealthy, self-funded candidates.
- The proposed contribution limits are still too high, and do not do enough to limit corruption.
- Public matching at any ratio or amount does little to empower those who cannot afford to make anything more than a nominal contribution.
- This program is too expensive. Increasing the availability of public funds increases its cost. The city has more important things to spend its money on.
- To truly diminish the corrupting influence of money in politics, New York City should adopt a full public funding or voucher system to replace the matching funds program.
- By allowing candidates to choose to run for office under the current system in the 2021 elections, it delays the positive impact of the proposed contribution limits and matching rates. It also adds unnecessary complexity, making it more difficult for candidates to understand and comply with its requirements.
- There is no reason to cap matching funds payments to candidates until they reach the expenditure limit. The matching funds cap should be increased even further, to more closely approximate a full public financing system.
- Awarding unlimited early public funds payments to candidates who have not yet qualified to appear on the ballot presents an increased risk of waste and fraud, as well as the possibility that candidates who don’t qualify for the ballot will be required to repay public funds.
Statements Supporting Proposal
Michael Blake, New York Assembly
It is critical to find more ways for New Yorkers to be engaged in the political process. I fully support reducing the contribution limits while increasing the ratio of matching funds to ensure a more inclusive, fair, equitable and transparent process. No one's income level should preclude them from having their voice heard.
Campaign Legal Center
Campaign Legal Center strongly supports Question 1. New York City’s small-dollar matching funds program is a model for states and cities across the country due to the high rates of candidate participation and impressive levels of local campaign engagement under the program. This proposal would build on existing strengths of the program by increasing the public funds match rate for city residents’ contributions and by allowing candidates to raise a larger percentage of their total funding through matching funds. Accordingly, the proposed amendments would provide city candidates with an even greater incentive to focus their campaigns on the individuals and communities who make up New York City. Additionally, the proposal would reduce opportunities for corruption by imposing lower limits on contributions to city candidates and ease the matching funds program’s qualification requirements for citywide office candidates—enabling more people with diverse backgrounds and experiences to run for office. In sum, Question 1 is an opportunity to amplify the voices of NYC residents in city elections and continue New York City’s legacy as a national leader in innovative and responsive democracy.
Eric Dinowitz, Special Education Teacher
I strongly favor the proposed changes to the City’s matching funds program. At its core, New York’s matching funds program is about making running for office more accessible for all New Yorkers and minimizing the influence of wealthy special interests. The changes would advance these goals, and push candidates to spend more time talking with the actual voters they represent instead of kowtowing to outside interests and big money donors. The surge in civic engagement and voting that we are witnessing is happening because New Yorkers are tired of seeing their government controlled by the wealthy few instead of the taxpayers they are supposed to represent. I am proud to support this proposal and urge all voters to join me in voting to make our elections more open and accessible.
Kate Doran, Elections Specialist The League of Women Voters of the City of New York
Proposal #1 Campaign Finance Reform
Our position, reached after grassroots study and consensus, is broadly supportive of public financing of election campaigns. We support comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform and establishment of an independent, rigorous enforcement regime to ensure compliance.
We support a voluntary program of public matching funds for small donations. The current public financing program in NYC has met expectations, for example, by increasing competition in NYC Council races, resulting in a more diverse City Council better representing all New Yorkers.
We support the 2018 ballot proposal because it will emphasize and energize small donors in a way that the current rules do not.
We believe that this change is in the spirit of improving what is widely known, throughout the country, as a model for public financing of elections.
Dyaami D'Orazio, Catalyst Organizer
Private funding for candidates that serve the public leads to corruption, preferential treatment, and unfair competition in a system that favors profit over the public good.
New York City's campaign finance system is seen by many as among the best in the country but one that requires improvements to ensure regular New Yorkers are heard. That's exactly what Question 1 does. It will make the voices of everyday New Yorkers matter more in elections and in what happens in City Hall. It will reduce the influence of wealthy and corporate interests. And it will inspire other cities and states to adopt similarly strong reform.
For more than two decades, Every Voice, a money-in-politics group with thousands of supporters in New York, has studied campaign finance systems and advocated for reforms that make elected officials and candidates pay attention to voters and constituents' needs. We can say unequivocally that Question 1 will help to create just that in New York City.
Every Voice urges a YES vote on Question 1.
Generation Citizen endorses all three ballot proposals because all proposals will help further our mission of ensuring that more New Yorkers of all ages and from all backgrounds engage in their local government and, by doing so, collectively strengthen our democracy.
Generation Citizen urges a yes vote on ballot proposal #1, which would improve New York City’s public financing system by reducing contribution limits and expanding matching funds for small donor contributions. New York City’s public financing system is a national model and these reforms would further strengthen this system by increasing the matching rate for small contributions. This proposal will elevate the voice of everyday New Yorkers in our city’s political process. By lowering individual contribution limits to candidates for City Council, Borough President and citywide office, this proposal will reduce the need for candidates to rely on large donors and incentivize candidates to engage a more diverse group of donors to support their campaigns. These revisions would ensure that more New Yorkers can make their voice heard in our local elections, which will strengthen our local democracy.
I feel that limiting the amount of funds a candidate can receive from a contributor will also limit the influence that can be imposed by that contributor. The additional public funding at an earlier stage of a campaign would incentivize the candidate to opt for this alternative to private contributors. It can only be beneficial to residents that the candidates up for election are beholden to no one but their constituents. I believe this proposal is a step in the right direction.
This is vital to even the playing field and support a more diverse candidate pool as well as fairness to the interests of all citizens, not just the privileged class and corporate money.
Audrey J. Isaacs, attorney
This method decreases reliance on large contributors. It reduces the difficulties for candidates from lesser contributions per contributor by increasing matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board.
Ben Kallos, New York City Council Member
Vote “Yes” to get millions of dollars in big money out of city politics so politicians will finally start working for voters like you. In the last two citywide elections, candidates raised $128 million, with more than half coming in big money, while only 10% came from small dollars. This is because the city allows big money contributions of up to $5,100 and only provides public matching funds for 55% of the small dollars raised. This leaves Mayoral candidates to raise more than a third of their money—over $3 million—from the biggest donations possible.
Vote "Yes" to get rid of big money in politics with three key Campaign Finance Reforms. Halve the contribution limits to participating candidates to a maximum of $2,000 citywide and $1,000 for Council. Match each small dollar with 8 public dollars, up from the current 6. Match nearly every small dollar by giving candidates 75% of the money they need to run in public dollars. With these reforms, candidates for city office could finally run without big money, instead relying solely on small dollars and public dollars to win. Elected officials should owe their victory only to voters like you.
Brad Lander, New York City Council Member
NYC’s campaign finance system is good (way better than Albany or Washington), but we can improve it. This proposal would cut individual contribution limits (from $5100 to $2000 for citywide offices, $2750 to $1000 for City Council) and expand public matching funds. This will empower small donors and reduce the corrupting influence of money in NYC politics. I hope New Yorkers will vote yes on this proposal.
Susan Lerner, Executive Director Common Cause/NY
Common Cause Position: Support
New York City has one of the most successful campaign public financing programs in the country, and now New York voters have a chance to make even stronger. Proposal 1 would amend the City Charter and strengthen New York City’s small donor public matching campaign finance program by lowering limits on contributions that a city candidate may accept. Additionally, Proposal 1 increases the public match.
Proposal 1 will allow more New York City candidates to run for public office without having to raise big money from wealthy special interests. Instead, candidates will be able to spend more time focusing on voters’ needs and raise money from small-dollar donors. By strengthening the New York City public financing program, Proposal 1 can also open the door to more everyday people to run for public office, not just those who are well connected to big donors.
Simply put, Proposal 1 is about increasing the power and voice of the everyday people in New York City elections.
MinKwon Center for Community Action
The MinKwon Center for Community Action supports the ballot measure to reduce campaign finance limits because it will further incentivize the engagement and participation of a broader range of stakeholders and constituents.
Michael Mulgrew, President, United Federation of Teachers
The United Federation of Teachers has long supported campaign finance reform. We believe this proposal will increase competition among candidates, lessen the influence of wealthy donors and promote greater diversity among campaign contributors.
New Kings Democrats
New Kings Democrats supports the proposed changes to the City’s public campaign finance. Public campaign finance has been a critical tool in lowering the barrier to entry in running for political office. It’s enabled less-connected and less-resourced individuals magnify their grassroots support while also working to place reasonable limits on what campaigns can spend. The proposed changes deepen and broaden these benefits.
This ballot question would dramatically lower the campaign contribution limits for those running in New York City elections. NYPIRG supports that change since it helps limit the influence that wealthy and powerful interests have over policymaking in the City.
These changes will further strengthen the City's landmark law, already a model for the nation. The current program matches small private donations with additional public resources, matching every $1 in private donation raised with $6 of clean public resources. The proposed change bumps that up to $8 of public resources for every $1 privately raised, further helping candidates without access to wealth to credibly run for office.
Relying on a large number of small contributors helps those who successfully run for office to act in the public’s best interest, not worry about the concerns of the wealthy few.
The proposed changes could also help strengthen the diversity of the City’s public officials and incentivize participating candidates to focus on the needs of the public at large and rely less on the well-organized economic interests that too often dominate governmental decision-making.
NYPIRG urges your support.
Laila I. Patino
I am "For"
Morris Pearl, Chair of the Board Patriotic Millionaires
These proposals will allow anyone, not just millionaires and people who can make friends with millionaires, to participate and run for office. More importantly, it will allow people running for office to hold meetings with regular New Yorkers rather than calling me to ask for $5,000. In a city as rich as ours, we need to ensure that our leaders don't need to spend all their time with wealthy benefactors in order to get the resources they need to share their platforms. I'm all for getting big money out of politics, especially mine.
Reinvent Albany urges you to vote YES vote on Question 1.
A yes vote on Question 1 reduces the amount of money candidates for New York City offices can raise from a single donor by lowering the contribution limits by up to 50 percent. Candidates will be able to raise more money from donors making small donations of $250 or less, matched by $8 in public funds for every $1 donated.
A YES vote will encourage candidates running for office to raise money from donors making small contributions rather than depending on wealthy donors or special interests. This will help ensure more voices are heard when elected officials make important decisions. A YES vote on Question 1 will also help reduce the political influence of big donors and corruption in government.
Reinvent Albany works for transparent, accountable New York City and State government.
RepresentUS NY supports a YES vote on Question 1.
At a time of increasing influence of large donors in elections, New York City has the opportunity to lead the way in setting a shining example of a quality campaign finance system.
Increasing public funds available to candidates gives more of the power back to everyday people from large donors looking to garner influence with their money. In addition, it affords the opportunity to candidates with fewer establishment ties the fiscal capacity to challenge those in power.
Lowering the maximum contribution further inhibits a candidate’s ability to rely on, and therefore answer to, only a small group of large donors.
Both of these reforms bolster the position of the vast majority of the City’s hardworking citizens.
Let’s show our city, state and federal leaders that New York City leads the way when it comes to having a government accountable to its people, and not special interests. Vote YES on question 1.
Statements Opposing Proposal
Salli Barash, Attorney
Lowering private contributions and increasing public funding would increase the public tax burden and hamper political change. Entrenched professional politicians with the ability to navigate government bureaucracy would have an institutional advantage over self financed individuals. Leaders who have earned wealth in the private sector or who have the support of the business community brings a much needed prospective to our political system and have the ability to craft solutions which foster prosperity for all hard working New Yorkers.
David Eisenbach, history professor
In 2017 I was a first time candidate in the Democratic Primary for Public Advocate. I received 92,000 votes but only raised $59,000. I oppose the charter revision to lower contribution limits because it will prevent non-politicians from running for office. First time candidates raise most of their funding from friends and family. Of the 174 contributors to my campaign, 7 accounted for 1/2 the total I raised. Those 7 people were myself, my wife, sister, mother, father and uncle. The contribution limits under this charter revision would have seriously impeded my ability to run for office. We should be encouraging non-politicians to run for office not making it harder. Also thank to super-pacs, big contributors will still be able to corrupt politicians. Also unless you lower the thresholds necessary to qualify for matching funds, if you increase the amount of the matching funds then you will just give the best funded candidates even more taxpayer money. You will not help faclitiate new candidates.
Jerry H. Goldfeder, Attorney
I have advocated for campaign finance reform for over forty years, and a proposal to lower contribution limits and increase public matching funds is a positive step in making our public matching fund program even better.
Although I would ordinarily support this amendment, I cannot because its implementation provision is flawed. The proposal gives candidates in the 2021 election a choice to abide by a new set of rules or rely on the current ones. As such, it would inevitably cause an imbalance between and among candidates, undercutting a central tenet of our law to have a level playing field.
The Council's Charter Revision Commission should revisit this issue and draft a plan to implement this welcome reform so that all candidates in a specific election play by the same rules.
Richard N. Gottfried, NY State Assembly Member
While this proposal is meant to reduce the impact of large contributions in City elections – an important goal – it creates big problems.
It cuts the maximum contribution a citywide candidate can accept (from $5,000 to $2,000), but only for candidates who choose to participate in the public financing system. It doesn’t cut contributions for candidates who rely all on private contributions – where contributions from developers and other special interests are the biggest problem! We need a better plan.