Political Law Roundup – July 13, 2015

This is the first post in a new series on the blog, providing a quick recap of recent political-law news and developments.

  • What role will non-profits have on the 2016 presidential election? According to a report in the New York Times, 501(c)(4) political activity is expected to be an important factor in the upcoming race.
  • In Wagner v. FEC, the DC Circuit Court upheld the prohibition on political contributions by federal contractors. You can see our full analysis of this important case here.
  • Challenges in defining coordination and enforcing restrictions means that Super PACs will continue to play an important role in federal elections, including the 2016 presidential race.
  • The New York City Campaign Finance Board is holding a hearing on Monday, July 13, 2015 to solicit comments on proposed amendments to Board rules on public-funds eligibility and disclosure-statement documentation. More information is available here.
  • The Brennan Center for Justice, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the Committee for Economic Development will be hosting a conference titled American Elections at the Crossroads, on Wednesday, July 22. Ann Ravel, chair of the FEC, will deliver remarks.

Constitutional Amendments and the Role of the New York City Voter Guide

Six constitutional amendments have been certified for the New York statewide ballot in 2013. Among these is a proposal to legalize casino gambling.

According to the enabling legislation, initially, all the casinos will be located upstate.  Ironically, heightened voter turnout in New York City, due to elections this year for municipal offices, could skew voting on the statewide casino referendum, or so some say.    While “pro” arguments may be made that NYC stands to benefit from state revenues for education generated by casinos upstate (as well as the prospect of future casino projects in or closer to the City), “con” arguments may assert that the City derives little benefit.

NYC voters will be informed by the NYC Voter Guide, which the NYC Campaign Finance Board (CFB) publishes and distributes to each household in the City with a registered voter.  The Voter Guide includes information on ballot proposals, including statewide ballot proposals. 

CFB rules specify that summaries and “pro” and “con” arguments about municipal ballot proposals will be included in the Voter Guide.  This informational material may be written by the CFB and/or solicited and obtained from public submissions.  CFB rules do not require comparably extensive information on statewide referenda, although the CFB has chosen to do so in at least one prior election.

The CFB is an independent non-partisan municipal agency.  Although free from direction or control by the governor or the state legislative proponents of the constitutional amendments, it remains to be seen whether the CFB’s Voter Guide will in fact include more extensive information on statewide ballot proposals than what government agencies’ provide to voters elsewhere in the state. 

Since the NYC Voter Guide is also published online, it potentially serves an informational resource for voters throughout the state.  While informing out-of-City voters is not within the CFB’s official mandate, that won’t stop others from driving out-of-City traffic to the NYC Voter Guide website.