New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

The After-“math” of the Council District 45 Special Election: Campaigns Continue to See Majority of Money Coming from Small Donors Under Campaign Finance Law Authored by Council Member Ben Kallos

New York, NY – Money in New York City politics continues to favor small dollars as of last week’s Special Election for City Council District 45 called following the vacancy created by the Special Election for Public Advocate. It was during the Special Election for Public Advocate in February that for the first time small dollars made up almost two-thirds of all the money candidates raised. This trend continued in the Special Election for Council District 45 demonstrating that the new program will work at every in elections at every level of government in New York City.

Every candidate that continued their campaign in the Special Election for Council District 45 chose the new 8 to 1 option with lower limits, a higher matching ratio of 8 to 1, and up to 75% of the spending limit available in public funds. Six out of the 8 candidates received a public grant for a total payout of $752,360 accounting for 79% percent of the funds available to candidates. In last week’s Special Election an analysis of contributions found that once again small dollars accounted for 63% of contributions.

The change was the result of Local Law 1 of 2019 authored by Council Member Ben Kallos. The law applies Campaign Finance Question 1 from the November 2018 ballot that won by 80% with 1.1 million votes as an option to the Special Election for Public Advocate and the elections that follow through 2021.

“Small dollars continue to be a the majority of campaign cash putting small dollar donors over big money in New York City elections. Even though we’ve increased the public matching grant a big-dollar gap remains which is why we are still seeing big money, the evidence shows that increasing to a full public match will reduce big money, if not eliminate its corrupting influence entirely,” said Council Member Ben Kallos author of Introduction 732 of 2018 that originally called increase the public match from 55% to 85% but would now increase the match from 75% to 89%.

In the 2009 Council District 45 race less than half (45%) of the money raised was in contributions of $175 or less. In the 2019 Special Election for Council District 45 small dollar contributions of $175 or less was nearly two-thirds (63%) of the money raised. In the 2009 Council District 45 race 33% of the money raised was in contributions of $1,000 or more. In the 2019 Special Election for Council District 45 big money contributions of $1,000 or more dropped by a factor of four to only 8% of the money raised. For our analysis small dollars are defined as the matchable amount which is $250 for citywide and $175 for all other offices.

Sum of Contributions


2019 Special

$175 or less



$175 or less (%)



$176 or more



$176 or more (%)



$1,000 or more



$1,000 or more (%)




$ 345,250.12


All figures updated as of filing period 2 ending May 3, 2019.

On January 2nd, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Local Law 1 of 2019 authored by Council Member Kallos to apply new campaign finance laws overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters some 1.1 million on November 6 to the upcoming special election for Public Advocate and municipal elections that follow through 2021.

Local Law 1 of 2019 extended the first ballot question on campaign finance reform from applying only in 2021 to providing that same option for special elections and the elections that follow (which already halve existing limits) in the interim:

  • Lowered contribution limits from $2,550 citywide to $1,000, $1,975 for borough president to $750, and from $1,425 for city council to $500.
  • Increased public matching of every small dollar of $175 and under with 6 public tax dollars to 8 public dollars and small dollars of $250 and under for citywide with 8 public dollars.
  • Increased public grant from 55% to 75% of the spending limit.

Unlike, question 1, lowered contribution limits and increased matching are retroactively applied to candidates that select this option.

In addition to applying ballot question 1 to the special election Local Law 1 went further by lowering thresholds for debates and minimum funds raised to qualify for a public grant by half, just as other limits are halved. The threshold for Mayor is halved from $250,000 to $125,000 and for Public Advocate and Comptroller from $125,000 to $62,500. Only the first $250 of an individual New York City resident’s contribution is applied toward meeting dollar amount threshold. Participating candidates must still collect the same number of contributions of 1,000 for Mayor and 500 for Public Advocate and Comptroller.

On November 8, 2018, 1,151,775 votes were cast for the campaign finance reforms proposed by ballot question one according to the Board of Elections unofficial election night results. A staggering 80.25% of 1,435,210 votes, a 4 to 1 margin. The numbers show that nearly 75% of all voters who voted for Governor in New York City “flipped” their ballot to the fourth page (1,928,280). Almost as many voters supported campaign finance reform as voted for any candidate for Mayor in the 2017 General Election (1,166,313).

These results were preceded by advocacy by Council Member Ben Kallos in favor of all three ballot questions following their adoption by the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission on Democracy. Kallos weighed in favor of Questions 1 and Question 3 in the NYCCFB’s Voter Guide. Actively participated in the Democracy Yes coalition that included recruiting many existing supporters of Int. 1130 of 2016. Authored opinion editorials one with Patriotic Millionaire Morris Pearl in City and State and another in Medium. Traveled around the borough of Manhattan securing endorsements of all three from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, as well as Question 1 from the Lexington Democratic Club, Four Freedoms Democratic Club, Downtown Independent Democrats, Uptown Community Democrats, among many others. Kallos even debated other elected officials on all three questions at forums by New Downtown Democrats and Downtown Independent Democrats as well as Community Board 8 Manhattan. As acknowledged at the last debate, by Charter Revision Commission member John Segal, in discussing ballot question 1, noting advocacy by Kallos for this reform dating back to 2008 when both served on the NYC Bar’s Election Law Committee. Ballot Question 1 even received the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders and the New York Times.

Prior to the Charter Revision Commission, Council Member Ben Kallos spent his prior term seeking campaign finance reform when he authored Int. 1130, as originally written it increased the public matching grant from 55% to 85% of the spending limit and increase the amount of dollars matched from $175 to $250. Kallos secured 32 sponsors and used his Chair of the Committee on Government Operations to force a hearing on April 27, 2017, though it had a majority of Council Members as sponsors it did not pass. In 2018, Kallos reintroduced the legislation as Int. 732 with 30 sponsors. When Mayor de Blasio called a Charter Revision Commission on democracy Kallos testified in favor of campaign reforms on May 9June 19July 23, and August 9 including reducing contribution limits, increasing matching ratios, and increasing public funds payments all of which were in part or in whole adopted.

Prior to his candidacy for City Council, Ben Kallos served as Executive Director of good government group New Roosevelt Initiative which advocated for campaign finance reform in Albany in 2011, 2012, and 2013.



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