Governor Paterson, the NYC Campaign Finance Board and Sisyphus

03.17.2008

By: Laurence D. Laufer

As newly-inaugurated New York Governor David Paterson knows, it is not easy to qualify for public matching funds in New York City.  And it just got harder. In 1993, David Paterson ran in the Democratic primary for New York City Public Advocate. His campaign committee did not reach the threshold of $125,000 in matchable contributions from 500 or more New York City residents. Thus, his campaign did not qualify to receive any public financing.  He lost that election. Flash forward to last week. Much as we predicted, the NYC CFB issued a new advisory opinion retroactively reducing the contributions that count toward the threshold for the 2009 election from $250 to $175. The Board reasoned that retroactive application of a 2007 legislative change in the threshold formula was the approach it took in the 2005 election and that threshold determinations are made only in election years, which necessarily contemplates looking backwards.  But another reason given – that the date of the underlying contribution “has never been relevant” in threshold determinations – is rather odd. The 2007 law changing the threshold also contemplates that contributions count toward the threshold only if the contributor is not deemed to be doing business with the City of New York at the time the contribution is made.  In other words, the new law directs the CFB to look to the date of the underlying contribution in making threshold determinations – the very circumstance the CFB now says has never been relevant. Also not explained in the opinion is that the July 2007 amendment to the matching funds formula (from 4:1 up to $250 per contributor, to 6:1 up to $175 per contributor) was expressly made retroactive.  The threshold formula was not changed until December 2007, when its component contributions were reduced from $250 to $175.  While some changes in the December 2007 law were made retroactive, the new threshold formula was not among these. In Greek mythology, as Sisyphus pushed the boulder up the hill, it continuously rolled back. The result was a never-ending burden. I n laboring to reach the threshold to qualify for public funds, New York City candidates are learning that Sisyphus is no myth.

Tag: New York City