Voters will receive the campaign contribution information in the CFB’s Voter Guides. On April 9, 2019, Council Member Ben Kallos introduced Introduction 1504 of 2019, a proposed bill that would reveal where politicians get their campaign contributions from and make this information more accessible to voters. To track the source of contributions, the bill would require campaign contributors to indicate their industry.
It is currently difficult to track the sources of campaign contributions. During the 2013 Mayoral election, it was found that 10 percent or $2 million of campaign funds came from individuals who listed their occupation as “homemaker”, “retired”, “unemployed” or “student” because the individuals in these categories were exempt from listing an employer. However, it was difficult to know the source of these contributions. There was also the same difficulty with tracking down “Real Estate” contributions because those involved in the industry do not indicate it as their occupation.
Currently, the New York Campaign Finance Board has a website which has information on the contributions given to politicians categorized by industry. According to Council Member Kallos, the site’s search results will “display hundreds if not thousands of search results in a table 25 entries long spanning dozens if not hundreds of pages.” This makes it possible but difficult to find where politicians are getting their money.
Under the proposed bill, the Campaign Finance Board would gather this information to create pie charts which would break down the percentage of campaign contributions by industry for each candidate. The information would be found in the Voter Guide. To gather this information, the CFB’s contribution card would ask contributors to check off the industries they are employed in. The proposed industries to be included are “real estate”, “finance and insurance”, “government employee”, “organized labor”, and “lobbying” but they can be expanded.
If a contributor is unemployed, they would provide the industry of the person who they are primarily dependent on. If a contributor is retired and their primary source of income is from a pension or retirement account, they would provide the industry where they were previously employed. In addition, legal practitioners who specialized in fields such as “real estate”, “finance”, “labor”, and “criminal” would be required to disclose their specialization by indicating the industry of the majority of their clients.
Any contributions that do not include this information will not be eligible for public matching.
“In NASCAR you can see who is paying right on the hood of the car. A pie chart showing where politicians are getting their money from in a voter guide when you are deciding who to vote for is the next best thing. Too big a slice from real estate, and voters will know who the politician really serves. I’ve already included logos from labor union endorsements in mail to voters in my district, in fact most do. I believe with 869,000 union members in New York City having a nice slice from labor would become a benchmark to determine candidates in public service for our working families,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.
“Council Member Kallos’ bill will increase public awareness and education about where money is coming from to fund candidates for City office. A more aware public makes a big difference in having our campaign finance laws enforced and supported,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Press Release, “How Much Politicians Took from Real Estate Industry Would Be Mailed to Voters Ahead of Elections Under Proposal by Council Member Ben Kallos”, Council Member Ben Kallos (April 9, 2019).