With campaign finance scandals swirling around Mayor de Blasio, the City Council considered a package of legislation Monday to tighten up the city’s campaign finance laws.
One bill looks to reduce the influence of lobbyists by banning candidates from getting taxpayer matching funds for donations raised by lobbyists or people doing business with the city.
Under normal circumstances, the first $175 of every donation is matched six to one by public funds. People doing business with the city can only give pols up to $400, less than the $4,950 limit for everyone else - but they can raise as much cash as they want from other donors, a practice known as bundling.
“The city should not be providing public dollars to amplify the already strong voices of special interests,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the sponsor.
In the 2013 citywide election, 19% of all bundlers were doing business with the city - and they brought in 24% of all bundled funds, he said.
The city Campaign Finance Board backed the changes.
Allowing lobbyists and contractors to bundle unlimited gifts and get matching funds is “a loophole that undermines the intent of the law to prevent or limit the appearance of ‘pay to play’ corruption,” said executive director Amy Loprest.
Scrapping matching funds for the donations “will limit their impact and decrease the potential for quid pro quo corruption that may be associated with potential city contractors or lobbyists who bundle contributions for candidates,” she said.
Bundlers are much more likely to be doing business with the city than contributors overall - and in 2013, more than $203,000 was raised by people with city business. Restrictions like the ones being proposed would have saved the city $1.2 million in taxpayer matching funds, Loprest said.
So far in the 2017 election cycle, bundlers with city business have raised $29,000, which would bring $176,000 in matching funds if the law is not changed.
De Blasio’s office also weighed in in favor of the bill. “This is an extra step to ensure that well-heeled lobbyists cannot indirectly bypass the intent of our regulations,” said special counsel to the mayor Henry Berger.
Among seven other bills being considered, one would require parent companies and their execs that own firms doing with the city to disclose their identities.
Another would let CFB pay out matching funds to candidates at an earlier point in the election cycle.
While the legislation was introduced before news of several probes into fundraising for de Blasio’s campaign and political non-profits emerged, Kallos said tighter restrictions are all the more necessary “given everything that’s happening around the appearance of impropriety in bundling by lobbyists.”
Some good government groups said a broader overhaul is needed.
“Watchdog groups like ours have long considered New York City government much cleaner than New York State’s. Unfortunately, the new scandals embroiling the mayor suggest it may be possible for an elected official to circumvent the city’s anti-corruption systems and essentially take money in exchange for political favors without breaking the law,” said Dominic Mauro of Reinvent Albany.
He argued pols should be barred from soliciting money for non-profit groups they effectively control.