Restructuring the New York City Government: The Reemergence of Municipal Reform

By Frank J. Mauro; Gerald Benjamin | Go to book overview
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Taking Home Rule Seriously: The Case
of Campaign Finance Reform

RICHARD BRIFFAULT

It is often contended that home rule has failed to fulfill its essential purpose of empowering local governments to act, on their own initiative, with respect to local matters. Many commentators have argued that the "narrow and restrictive judicial interpretation" given to local autonomy has stunted local initiative and discouraged local governments from utilizing the powers home rule may give them. 1 New York State, in particular, is said to have a constricted home rule tradition that provides local governments little real autonomy. Yet New York has just witnessed a striking example of municipal innovation: New York City's adoption of a program of optional partial public funding of campaigns for municipal offices.

Adopted in 1988 pursuant to a charter amendment and local laws, the New York City Campaign Finance Act provides public matching funds to candidates for mayor, other citywide offices, borough president, and city council in primary, runoff primary, and general elections. To qualify, candidates must limit campaign contributions and expenditures and abide by reporting and disclosure requirements. In terms of the number of offices and elections covered, the New York City law creates one of the most extensive public campaign finance programs at any level of government—federal, state, or local—in the country.

New York City's campaign finance program was adopted as a matter of local home rule, without any express state constitutional or statutory authorization. This essay examines the legal underpinnings of the city's power to enact such a significant local measure in the absence of express state authorization and in the face of considerable state legislation in the area of elections. It determines that, although existing judicial doctrines are too vague to be dispositive, a normative theory of home rule and preemption can be constructed that is both consistent with the case law and attentive to the competing concerns of empowering local governments while precluding local measures that interfere with state policies or impose extra-local costs. Such an approach would result in the validation of New

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