The NYC Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that administers the campaign finance system in NYC. CFB seeks to limit the role and influence of private money in the political process as well as improve transparency and accountability of campaign finance in NYC. CFB’s projects include a public campaign financing program, which matches small campaign contributions by NYC residents to any candidate running for municipal office with public funds as well as trainings and resources for candidates, campaign staff and voters. NYC Votes Contribute, a project of CFB, is a fundraising platform, which uses technology to simplify the process of collecting small campaign contributions online. NYC Votes simplifies the process of raising money, and at the same time, complying with campaign finance laws. In addition, candidates who participate in NYC Votes qualify for matching funds, which amplifies their success chances. By connecting candidates with their supporters, this initiative intends to make it easier for candidates of all backgrounds to qualify for matching funds and build a viable campaign with the support of small-dollar contributors from their friends and neighbors.
Fundraising requirements and compliance with campaign finance laws and regulations, can be necessary to improve the integrity of the electoral process, but can also be burdensome and intimidating for first time candidates. As a result, many potential candidates, especially women and minority groups, are discouraged from running for office.
How Did They Do It?
After a series of municipal corruption scandals in the 1980s, voters approved the creation of the Campaign Finance Board in a citywide referendum. The Board is charged with limiting the role of private money in local elections by providing public matching funds to candidates and voter education programs for all citizens. NYC Votes Contribute is a first-of-its-kind platform-- a fundraising tool for candidates built as a public good. Contribute uses technology to extend the mission of the small-dollar matching funds program by making it easy for local candidates to collect contributions online. Previously, friends and neighbors of a candidate might have offered cash to candidates directly at events, without supporting documentation or a way to remain connected to the campaign. Contribute collects all the relevant data directly from contributors, improves the quality of public disclosure and makes it easier for candidates to comply with CFB requirements. Candidates for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and City Council can use the platform after registering with the CFB. Contribute can be accessed through any browser on desktop, tablet, or mobile, and you can embed it in your campaign’s website.
How Is It Going?
In the last 30 years, CFB has provided over $182 million in public matching funds to candidates for city elections. These matching funds have elevated the value of small-dollar contributions from voters and reduced the role of “dark money” and interest-group spending.
In the 2017 municipal elections, 172 out of 235 candidates on the ballot participated in the program, and of these 105 candidates qualified for $17.7 million in matching fund payments. The matching funds program, including funds raised using the Contribute app, accounted for nearly half of all spending in the 2017 elections. The CFB also convenes televised debates, creates a printed and online video voter guide distributed to every household in New York City, and a nonpartisan Get Out the Vote effort.
It has been suggested that one measure of the quality of a democracy is “how possible is it for a person of average means to be elected to office?” What can cities do to mitigate existing barriers to entry for political candidates? What are they doing?