The Answers Depend on the Questions that are Asked

February 13, 2014

After each City-wide election, the NYC Campaign Finance Board is required to produce a post-election report to the Mayor and City Council.  Today intrepid politicos, reformers and observers braved a blizzard to participate in a public hearing that is a key component in this mandated review.

The hearing was scheduled to include four panel discussions, the first of which examined NYC’s “small-dollar matching program.”  The CFB’s upcoming evaluation of this program will also have resonance in Albany where the governor, legislators and reformers continue to forcefully advocate its replication at the state level.  

To assess how the matching funds program is working, what issues will the CFB choose to examine? Among other topics, the law directs the CFB to analyze “the effect of this chapter on political campaigns, including its effect on the sources and amounts of private financing, the level of campaign expenditures, voter participation, the number of candidates and the candidates’ ability to campaign effectively for public office”.  In addition, the law mandates “a review of the procedures utilized in providing public funds to candidates”.

      In thinking about the three mandated topics highlighted above, consider the kinds of questions the CFB could choose to examine:

      1)  Voter Participation.  Small donor matching has been hailed for broadening the number, geography, and demography of campaign contributors.  But is there any correlation between stimulating more local resident contributors and voter participation?  Is an effect on voter turnout relevant in evaluating the ultimate benefit of public financing for democracy?

      2)     Candidates’ Ability to Campaign Effectively.   The New York City Campaign Finance Act contains approximately 23,000 words.  CFB regulations on the matching funds program add another 45,000 words, give or take.  While reform-advocates might look to espouse new regulations and restrictions to govern campaign behavior, what might a bit of de-regulation achieve for candidates’ ability to campaign effectively?

      3)     Procedures Utilized in Providing Public Funds.  Self-assessments are always difficult.  For simplicity sake, our comment highlights just one area: the use of time.  A NYC-election cycle generally runs four years.  How well does the CFB use those 1461 days in administering the matching funds program and enforcing associated legal requirements?  For example, does the CFB work to enable candidates to resolve all compliance issues in a steady, even and timely manner throughout the four year cycle?  Or are the burdens on CFB staff and campaigns unduly deferred until the peak of campaign season?   And, returning to question 2, what effect did the timing of CFB actions in the 2013 election cycle have on the ability of candidates to campaign effectively?

Tags: New York CityNew York State