Legislation introduced to tighten New York City campaign finance rules

A package of bills to tighten the city’s campaign finance rules is set to be introduced in the City Council this week.

The legislation would bar more people from giving big bucks to candidates because they do business with the city, and slap more restrictions on fundraising by such donors.

“We’re taking on the onslaught of dark money and special interests in the city’s elections,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee and one of the sponsors.

Right now, owners of firms with city business are bound by strict contribution limits – but their parent companies and those companies’ execs aren’t covered. That means real estate titans who hide their business in multiple LLCs can get out of the rules.

People with city business can only give $400 for mayor and other citywide offices – compared to $4,950 for other donors. Under the new rules, when one business owns a chunk of another business that deals with the city, the parent company’s officials would have to follow the lower limits.

“You have people who are effectively doing business with the city, behaving as if they’re not,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is sponsoring the measure. “You should be following the same rules.”

Another bill would ban candidates from getting taxpayer matching funds for donations raised by fundraisers who do business with the city.
Councilmember Jumaane Williams says those doing business with New York are “behaving as if they’re not.”
Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News
Councilmember Jumaane Williams says those doing business with New York are “behaving as if they’re not.”

In the 2013 elections, 19% of “bundlers” who raise cash from smaller donors had city business – and they raised 24% of all bundled funds.

Normally, the Campaign Finance Board matches the first $175 of every private contribution at a rate of six to one.

The package of eight bills, set to be introduced Tuesday, would also have CFB tell candidates the June before an election whether they qualify for matching funds. Right now, the decision is made in August.

That would avoid last-minute denials that can deal a fatal blow to a campaign – like the one 2013 mayoral contender John Liu suffered when he was shut out of public funds because of fundraising improprieties.

The legislation would also ban all candidates – including those who aren’t taking matching funds – from accepting donations from political committees that aren’t registered with the city.

The bills mirror a number of recommendations made by the CFB in a report it issued after the 2013 election, and backers aim to have the new rules in place in time for the next citywide election in 2017.

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