Conventional wisdom holds that campaign finance reform is elusive. At both the federal level and in many states, the pace of enactment tends to be measured in decades.
New York City is an exception. For over 25 years, reforms have been enacted, amended, refined, bolstered, enhanced, re-worked and re-formed over and over, and then some more. Recent developments again illustrate this remarkable dynamic.
Right on schedule, the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) today issued its quadrennial report, “By the People: The New York City Campaign Finance Program in the 2013 Elections.” The report contains more than a dozen legislative proposals. Lo and behold, three of these were signed into law last week!
- Local Law No. 40 requires public communications produced by NYC candidate committees to identify the authorizing candidate or committee.
- Local Law No. 41 adds numerous public disclosure requirements for independent expenditures. The new law requires independent spenders to disclose their owners, officers, and board members, as well as contributors of $25,000 or more to contributing entities from which they have received $50,000 or more. Also, “paid for by” disclaimers on independent public communications will now include owners, CEOs, and top three donors, in addition to identification of the independent spender.
- Local Law No. 43 trims requirements for the CFB’s printing and mailing of voter guides to NYC voters.
The CFB report details other proposals, which include:
- Issuing a limited amount of public funds to candidates prior to their obtaining a place on the ballot
- Streamlining criteria for lifting the public funds payment cap in competitive elections
- Deeming contributions bundled by persons doing business with the City as ineligible for public matching funds
- Banning candidates from accepting contributions from labor unions and political committees.
That last proposal is a decade-old warhorse and quite ambitious constitutionally for candidates not receiving public financing.
One issue the CFB kicks down the road for further study is possibly pairing an increase in spending limits for publicly financed candidates with reduced contribution limits (presumably for all candidates). One might consider a study oriented toward the enactment of new limits on candidates as out-of-step with the trend toward limits-free independent spending.
Finally, today’s New York Times coverage reminds us again that New York City’s campaign finance system is “often viewed as a national model.” While NYC’s reforms perhaps serve as a model of what can be done, its impulse for perpetual reform doesn’t actually seem to be catching on elsewhere.
Indeed, when it comes to campaign finance reform, that old Sinatra refrain falls flat: the fact that you can make it in New York, New York simply does not prove you can make it anywhere else.