New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

The After-“math” of the Public Advocate Special Election: How Campaigns Are Financed Just Got Flipped Upside Down Under New Campaign Finance Law Authored by Council Member Ben Kallos

Public Advocate Special Election Big Money versus Small Dollars

New York, NY – Money in New York City politics got flipped on its head in the recent Special Election for Public Advocate. For the first time small dollars made up almost two-thirds of all the money candidates raised when in the last competitive public advocate election small dollars only made up a quarter. The dramatic 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. Of the 17 candidates who appeared on the ballot, 11 qualified to receive a public matching grants, all but one of which chose the new system, receiving $7,178,120 accounting for more than 73% percent of the funds available to candidates.

“We’ve just flipped how campaigns are financed upside down with small dollar donors on top of big money. Providing candidates with three-quarters of the money they need to run and win has halved big money in politics, but we will need a full public match for a chance to get all the big money out,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Jumaane Williams made history as the first candidate to win citywide office without real estate money. The ground has shifted, candidates now know they can run and win without real estate money, and the voters won’t tolerate anything less.”

“The Public Advocate's race reveals the beneficial impact of recent changes to city campaign finance law,” said Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Advisor for Reinvent Albany. “There has been a seismic shift toward raising far more money from small donors that has not been the case for citywide races in the past.”

“Across the country, more Americans than ever before are sick of big money’s outsized influence in politics. Even though I’m a millionaire, I’m sick of it too,” said Morris Pearl, Chair of Patriotic Millionaires. “I know our country is at its best when every voice is heard and weighted the same, and our great city is no different. In November, we made progress by passing campaign finance reform that strengthens the political power of average New Yorkers. Still, more can be done to fix our democracy. A full public match will not only make the average New Yorker’s vote more equal to mine, but it will allow people to run who don’t have friends with big money.”

“The strength of our democracy is so much greater when candidates are fueled by the people they aspire to represent. We thank the NYC Council, Speaker Johnson, and more specifically Councilmember Kallos, for their leadership, and are excited to watch as more candidates are accountable to their diverse communities over corporate dollars under the new campaign finance law,” said Murad Awawdeh, Vice President of Advocacy, New York Immigration Coalition.

“Last week's election shows that good public policy can increase the impact of small contributions from New Yorkers, lessen reliance on special interest dollars and increase the public's confidence in the independence of their elected officials," said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator of NYPIRG. "The Council, Mayor and Campaign Finance Board deserve kudos for implementing this reform so quickly and efficiently.”

“This year's Public Advocate race shows us that New Yorkers aren't just supportive of small donor public financing, they are excited to participate in the system," said Stanley Fritz, Citizen Action Campaigns Manager. "Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level.”

“The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system. Now we need Fair Elections legislation that will back up the trends we have already seen from the public and provide much needed donor matching for working people to be able to afford to run for office more easily,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU

“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants. We expect candidates going forward to follow Jumaane’s lead if they want the support of New York’s 5.3 million renters, and we expect policies like universal rent control will become a reality as the people are increasingly the driving force in elections,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change which asked candidates in the Special Election for Public Advocate to take a no corporate money and no real estate money pledge.


Facts and Figures according to NYCCFB Follow the Money:

In the 2013 Public Advocates race 60% of the money raised was in contributions of $1,000 or more. In the 2019 Special Election for Public Advocate big money contributions of $1,000 or more were cut in half to only 26% of the money raised.

In the 2013 Public Advocates race 74% of the money raised was in contributions over $250. In the 2019 Special Election for Public Advocate contributions over $250 were cut in half to only 37% of the money raised.

In the 2013 Public Advocates race only 26% of the money raised was in contributions of $250 or less. In the 2019 Special Election for Public Advocate small dollar contributions of $250 or less more than doubled to account for 63% of the money raised.


Sum of Contributions


2019 Special

$250 or less

 $     1,292,401

 $     1,394,247

$250 or less (%)



$251 or more

 $     3,616,530

 $        819,502

$251 or more (%)



$1,000 or more

 $     2,962,006

 $        576,855

$1,000 or more (%)




$ 4,908,931.25

$ 2,213,999.84

All figures updated as of filing period 3 ending February 11, 2019.


Background on Campaign Finance Reform Efforts by Council Member Ben Kallos

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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