Independent Expenditures Targeted for Restrictions Ahead of 2021 Election
Candidates would see spending reduce campaign spending limits with
liability for independent expenditures
New York, NY – Candidates seeking to get an unfair advantage by coordinating with independent expenditures to get around spending limits would see their cheating frustrated under legislation proposed by campaign finance reformer and Council Member Ben Kallos. In 2013, two campaigns were fined a combined $15,000, for getting around spending limits by coordinating their campaigns with an Independent Expenditure through a plan to share the same campaign consultant. The two bills would create strict liability for sharing a consultant and extend liability to those responsible for the independent expenditure.
“Voters want a fair election. Candidates should know they can’t cheat their way into office. No more outspending opponents using coordinated independent expenditures then paying a small fine once elected, this money will go against your spending limit as it should,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a campaign finance reformer who authored the current full public matching system.
Under New York City’s public campaign finance system, campaigns have limits on how much they can spend starting at $190,000 in a general election for City Council. Despite prohibitions against corporate giving directly to candidates Citizens United allows corporations unlimited spending provided it is done independently. In 2013, the last competitive citywide election, Independent Expenditures totaled $15.9 million. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) backed independent expenditure Jobs for New York spent $4.9 million on 541 communications to voters. In 17 out of 41 primary elections for City Council, total independent spending exceeded the individual candidate spending limit and in nearly half those cases was more than double the spending limit.
A total of $31,000 in fines were issued, the most ever to a campaign consultant and two candidates for City Council in 2013 by the Campaign Finance Board. Regardless of the fines that were issued, the issue with coordinating independent expenditures is that it removes limits on amounts, corporate contributions, as well as on spending, to undermine the campaign finance system and the integrity of free and fair elections.
Under the proposed legislation, spending by an independent expenditure would immediately reduce candidate spending limits, including but not limited to the following specific instances:
- Campaign consultant shared in common;
- Fundraising for the independent expenditure by someone in common with the campaign;
- Independent expenditures suggested, formed, or requested by the candidate;
- Prior relationship between candidate or staff and the subsequent independent expenditure;
- Office space shared between candidate or consultants and the independent expenditure; and
- Communications between candidate and independent spender through a third-party.
“Extend liability for violations to agents of independent spenders” was recommendation number 9 of “Keeping Democracy Strong” the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s 2017 Post-Election Report:
Under the Act and the City Charter, penalties for violations committed by independent spenders are treated differently than those for violations committed by campaigns. Under the Act, the candidate, the principal committee, the treasurer, and “any other agent” of the candidate may be liable for penalties assessed by the Board. The Charter, which sets the requirements for independent expenditures, does not explicitly extend liability to agents of the person or entity responsible for the expenditure.
The Board Rules were changed in 2016 to extend liability for penalties to agents of independent spenders, but Charter authority would provide further clarity on this issue. The Board recommends an amendment to the Charter that establishes liability for violations and penalties to any agent acting on behalf of an independent spender.
Taken together both bills would seek to prevent illegal coordination between campaigns and independent expenditures by reducing candidate spending limits and fining independent spenders directly.