April 1, 2009

By: Laurence D. Laufer

A More Level Playing Field

Yesterday, Genova, Burns & Vernoia submitted an advisory opinion request to the NYC Campaign Finance Board (CFB) on behalf of New Yorkers for Bill Thompson, a mayoral committee in this year’s election. The crux is that the NYC Campaign Finance Act requires the lifting of the $6,158,000 primary election spending limit that applies to candidates participating in the voluntary public financing program if a non-participating incumbent raises or spends more than three times the amount of the spending limit (i.e., more than $18,474,000) before the primary election.  Mayor Bloomberg can avoid this result simply by opting to become a “limited participant” who agrees to abide by the law’s spending limit (like all his opponents). The opinion request is getting attention.  The request does not argue for an exception to current campaign finance law or seek to bend any rules.  Rather, the law is clear that expenditures made by an incumbent non-participating mayoral candidate through the date of a mayoral primary election are to be measured against the primary election spending limit.  And this is true regardless whether the non-participating mayoral candidate is a candidate in that primary election. This is the first time this issue is being presented to the Campaign Finance Board.   The CFB has previously highlighted the threat free-spending non-participants pose to fair competition (see The Impact of High-Spending Non-Participants on the Campaign Finance Program).   The 2001 and 2005 Bloomberg mayoral campaigns are the most vivid examples of this problem.  An affirmative response would be a step toward a more level playing field.

Tag: New York City