New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Capital New York Campaign Finance Board wants earlier payments to candidates by Sally Goldenberg

Campaign Finance Board wants earlier payments to candidates

 campaign-finance-board-wants-earlier-payments-candidatesCouncil member Ben Kallos is the chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. (William Alatriste/NY City Council)

The New York City Campaign Finance Board will ask the City Council on Monday for sweeping changes to the rules governing the city's system of publicly financing candidates.

Chief among the proposed reforms is permission for the board to accelerate payments of matching funds to qualifying candidates. Specifically, the board is recommending a single payment in June, no earlier than four business days after the June 10 deadline for candidates to join the matching funds program.

Currently, candidates must be on the ballot in order to receive the 6-to-1 match from the board. Because the law prohibits payouts until challenges to petitions are settled and ballots are determined, those running for office cannot get matching funds until five weeks before the primary.

"The current law requires candidates to be on the ballot to qualify for public funds and prohibits us from making payments until the petitioning period ends. … It can make things difficult for the campaigns at a time when they should be campaigning," said Amy Loprest, executive director of the board, in an interview with Capital.

She also argued that candidates who receive matching funds earlier in the process will have more time to comply with the Campaign Finance Board's stringent rules and address potential violations, such as accepting contributions over the legal limit.

"It frees candidates to focus on reaching voters when campaign season is at its peak, instead of scrambling to raise funds," she added.

The board, realizing it could end up giving taxpayer dollars to candidates who ultimately do not qualify to be on the ballot, is requesting the early payments be made only to candidates who have met the threshold to receive public payments by the May 15 filing period. And the early payouts would be a fraction of the total amount candidates would eventually receive: $250,000 for mayoral hopefuls, $125,000 for those running for comptroller and public advocate, $50,000 for borough president candidates and $10,000 for anyone running for the Council.

The suggestion, which would need Council approval, is tucked into a 136-page report the board recently released on the city's 2013 election cycle.

Earlier payouts are a priority for the board because of a steep drop in the percentage of candidates who received the first round from 2009 to 2013.

According to the post-election report, 63.6 percent of 2009 candidates received funds on a first payment date, compared to 48.1 percent last year. The drop in the percentage of candidates receiving funds at all during the race was far smaller: 82.8 percent in 2009 and 79.5 percent in 2013.

And 49 candidates last year received their first public payment on the second date or later, fewer than four weeks before the primary election, according to the report. That is largely because they had not fixed outstanding compliance issues in time for the first payment, even though they were on the ballot.

Loprest will make her case Monday morning to the Council's governmental operations committee. A vote is not yet scheduled.

Other board recommendations include tightening the reins on independent expenditures, which flooded the 2013 campaign cycle, adding more disclosure for anonymous contributions and limiting the role of intermediaries—commonly called "bundlers, if they do business with the city.

The report notes that 19 percent of all intermediaries have active business with the city, while campaigns are limited in how much they can take in contributions from individual donors who do business with City Hall.

The board wants to make the contributions of the bundlers non-matchable to limit their impact.

The Council recently passed a bill that would require publicizing of the top sponsors of independent expenditures, who are often unknown to the public viewing their advertisements.



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