The NYC Campaign Finance Board

Removing Barriers to Participation for First Time Candidates

three colored squaresThe NYC Campaign Finance Board

Innovation

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.

Democratic Challenge

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’d 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’s 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.

Considerations

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?

 

Innovation Point of Contact

Amy Loprest
Executive Director
New York City Campaign Finance Board

Who Else Is Trying This

Seattle, Washington, United States

Seattle’s Initiative 122, dubbed “Honest Elections” by supporters, is the first of its kind to provide public campaign funds to city council and mayoral candidates through a voucher system. By giving all Seattle voters four $25 coupons that they can give to any participating candidate or candidates of their choosing, the initiative was designed to expand the pool of candidates for city offices and to safeguard the people’s control of the elections process. These “democracy vouchers” are also intended to allow candidates to devote significantly more time to non-fundraising campaign activities, such as canvassing and public speaking. Participating candidates, in turn, must follow strict spending limits ($800,000 for mayoral candidates and $150,000 for City Council candidates), financial disclosure rules, and contribution rules that ban contributions from corporations with large city contracts and lobbying efforts. A study found that three times more Seattle residents donated to candidates in 2017 than in 2013, with 84% of donors being new donors and 71% of them being voucher donors. Small donations and vouchers also accounted for 87% of support for candidates in the 2017 election, which contrasts with the 43% level in the 2013 election.

Connecticut, United States

Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program (CEP) is a ‘clean elections’ initiative that provides full public funding for qualified candidates running for state offices. The initiative allows candidates to compete without reliance on special interest money, increasing citizen participation in the election process, and providing the public with useful and timely disclosure of campaign finances. In order to qualify for a public grant, CEP candidates must meet the spending and disclosure requirements in addition to a two-part threshold that sets the requirements for how much each candidate must raise from small donor contributions (depending on the level of office the candidate is running for) and the minimum number of individuals from the candidate’s district who must have contributed between $5 to $100. The program enjoys wide public support and has shown great success. In the 2014 election cycle, a resounding 84% of all winning candidates ran with public funding, which is higher than the 73% participation rate among all candidates. Since its implementation, the number of unopposed legislative races decreased from 53 elections in 2008 to 32 in 2010, and a number of candidates cited the availability of public funds as a factor in their decision to seek office.