February 29 marks the 20th anniversary of New York City’s campaign finance law. In contrast to similar reform efforts elsewhere, NYC’s law has been a dynamic work in progress, the subject of frequent legislative changes.
Indeed, the current law is the product of more than 20 laws enacted over 20 years. A mandate for ongoing change was essentially built into the original law, which requires periodic reviews and reports by the NYC Campaign Finance Board (CFB). But not all legislated changes were originated by CFB recommendations.
To commemorate the first 20 years, below we highlight a few of the notable changes enacted by the NY City Council. (Campaign finance reform has also been a frequent subject of various NYC charter revision commissions, but we’ll leave that subject for another day.)
1988 – Public financing program created. Candidates for citywide office, borough president and City Council may voluntarily “opt-in”, agreeing to contribution and spending limits, and to public disclosure and record keeping requirements, in return for the opportunity to qualify for public funds, paid at a 1:1 matching rate. Campaign Finance Board created to administer program.
1989 – Spending limitations modified to encourage candidates to join the program.
1990 – Numerous changes made in the first post-election overhaul, including contribution limits reconfigured on an election cycle rather than a “per election” basis, increased spending limits, and expanded permissible uses of public matching funds.
1994 – Required candidates (other than Council candidates) to submit pre-opt-in disclosure reports to preserve their matching funds claims.
1996 – A debate program for citywide candidates is established.
1998 – Regulation of donations for transition and inauguration into office initiated. Contribution limits lowered. Corporate contributions prohibited. Political committees must register with CFB for their contributions to be acceptable. Public funds matching rate increased to 4:1.
2003 – Narrowed definition of matchable contribution. Pre-opt-in disclosure reports by Council candidates required. Capped public funds payments based on opposing candidates “competitiveness.” Administrative procedure codified for assessing civil penalties for violations.
2004 – Extended City contribution limitations, corporate contribution prohibition and disclosure requirements to all City candidates, including those not participating in the voluntary public financing program. Increased public funds payable to participating candidates opposed by well financed non-participants. Eligibility for public funds conditioned on payment of all outstanding penalties and public funds repayment claims from prior elections. Restrictions added on transferring funds, candidate eligibility to appear in debates, and the use of government resources for candidate appearances and communications in election year.
2005 – Set standards for when contributions by different labor organizations are subject to a single contribution limit.
2006 – Contributions by lobbyists and other persons listed in lobbyist registration statements are not matchable with public funds.
2007 – Established lower contribution limits from persons defined as doing business with NYC. Increased matching rate to 6:1. Definition of intermediaries subject to public disclosure expanded. Created restrictions on use of campaign funds and expanded restrictions on use of public funds. Revamped standards for capping public funds payments based on indicia of an opponent’s competitiveness. Increased spending limits and narrowed exemptions from spending limits. Set deadlines for post-election audits. Required adjudications for penalty assessments and public funds repayment claims.