New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

How Much Money Politicians Took from Real Estate Industry Would Be Mailed to Voters Ahead of Elections Under Proposal by Council Member Ben Kallos

Politicians Labeled with Campaign Contributions

New York, NY – Voters would finally know where politicians get their campaign money from under a new proposal to publicize the sources of contributions from major industries such as real estate right before elections. Under the legislation authored by Council Member Kallos, donors would be required to disclose where they get their money from. Displaying the percentage of a candidate’s funds that come from industries such as finance, insurance, lobbying, labor, real estate and government, the disclosures would be shared with the public via official New York City voter guides available online and mailed to every voter in New York City.
In 2013, a White House petitionreceived 36,824 signatures to make lawmakers wear logos of financial backers on clothing, like in NASCAR. In 2015, a protest of the California state legislature labeled politicians “NASCAR-style” with logos from their corporate donors as they fought for a ballot initiative. However, one scholar expressed concern that the First Amendment would be a potential impediment to such a proposal.
“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,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who has never taken corporate contributions and refused Real Estate contributions since his first election in 2013. “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.”
During the last competitive Mayoral election in 2013, about 10% of the money – $4.8 million – came from individuals whose “occupation” was one of four categories exempt from listing employers: homemaker, retired, unemployed, and student. Donors with the occupation “homemaker” gave $2 million, more than half of which was given in contributions of $4,950, the maximum amount allowed under law. This legislation would mandate that retired and unemployed individuals would have to disclose the industry source of retirement or savings income, while homemakers and students would disclose the industry source of income for their household.
Introduction 1504 of 2019 would require the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to add to existing contribution cards check boxes for industries, the list of which could expand but would have to include: (i) real estate, (ii) finance and insurance; (iii) government employee; (iv) organized labor; and (v) lobbying. Contributors would have to indicate their industry when making campaign contributions to receive public matching. Finally, the bill would require the CFB to provide voters, through the CFB Voter Guide, that is currently online and mailed to every voter’s household, with a pie chart for each candidate indicating the percentage of campaign contributions from top industries.
Real estate contributions are notoriously difficult to track down as not all donors involved in the industry include “Real Estate” as their occupation. In the 2013 Mayoral election, those who did disclose “Real Estate” as their occupation accounted for 4.4% of the money for a total of $2.1 million. By contrast, direct contributions to candidates from Political Action Committees (PAC) accounted for only 1.8% and less than a million, with contributions from a “Labor Union” making up only a very small half a percent (0.55%), for a total of just $270,480.09.
The occupation providing the largest source of funds after candidates themselves and just ahead of “Homemakers” in the 2013 Mayoral Election was “Attorney” or “Lawyer” which, combined, accounted for 7.9% of the money for a total of $3,849,857.17. Under the proposed legislation, legal practitioners specializing 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.
"The people of New York deserve to know who their candidates answer to. Transparency is a cornerstone of political freedom, and when industries like real estate or finance control so much of New York politics, it's so important for people to be able to see who candidates are beholden to, and for how much. You wouldn't buy a sandwich without knowing what was in it, so why should you be expected to vote for a candidate without knowing how his or her campaign is funded?" said Morris Pearl, Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires.

"Council Member Kallos’ bill will increase public awareness and education about where money is coming from to fund candidates for City office," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "A more aware public makes a big difference in having our campaign finance laws enforced and supported."
Anyone can currently find where their politician gets most of their money from, by visiting, clicking “Follow the Money,” and then “SEARCH FOLLOW THE MONEY | NYC,” then select the correct election (the current default is 2017, the last election), and enter a candidate name. This will display hundreds if not thousands of search results in a table 25 entries long spanning dozens if not hundreds of pages, making it possible but difficult to find where politicians are getting their money. Currently search functions allow for anyone to pull lists of contributions from: Labor UnionsBusiness EntitiesPolitical Committees, and Individuals.
Under the proposed legislation, any contribution for which such information was not provided would not qualify for matching contributions under New York City’s campaign matching system. Platforms operated by the Campaign Finance Board such as NYC Votes would be required to offer a feature to disable contributions from specific industries providing error messages explaining the candidate’s refusal to accept contributions.

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