Empowering Small Donors: New York City's Multiple Match Public Financing as a Model for a Post-Citizens United World
Loprest, Amy, Perskie, Bethany, Fordham Urban Law Journal
Introduction I. Background A. History of the New York City Campaign Finance Act B. Provisions of the New York City Campaign Finance Act II. Evolving Jurisprudence A. Supreme Court B. Judicial Challenges to the New York City Program III. Impact of Supreme Court holdings on Campaign Finance A. High Spending Candidates B. Independent Expenditures IV. Small Donor Democracy Conclusion
Recent Supreme Court holdings have opened the door to unprecedented levels of campaign spending by both candidates and third parties. (1) Independent spenders are unrestricted in the amount they spend in support of or in opposition to candidates. (2) Public financing systems are not permitted to provide additional financial assistance to publicly financed opponents of highspending, independently financed candidates. To avoid having the entire spectrum of political speech dominated by wealthy individuals and special interest groups, state and local governments must administer public financing programs that maximize the impact of small contributions while avoiding the type of "trigger" system that the Court has deemed an unjustified infringement on First Amendment rights. (3)
The New York City Campaign Finance Program (the "Program") seeks to achieve this end with its low-dollar multiple match system, which awards public funds at a six-to-one ratio for small contributions to participating candidates, who must adhere to an overall expenditure limit. (4) The multiple match element of the Program provides participants with the ability to challenge candidates who are heavily financed by their own personal funds and/or those of independent spenders. Because the spending of an opposing candidate does not trigger an award of additional matching funds, the Program is compliant with the parameters set forth by the Supreme Court.
This Article will address the evolution of the Court's jurisprudence on high spending candidates and outside actors; judicial challenges to the Program; New York City's experience with high spending candidates; the increasing prevalence of independent expenditures in federal and local elections; and how the City's low-dollar multiple match functions as an effective and constitutional offset to these candidates and outside spenders. The Article concludes that, despite the influx of money from independent spenders and wealthy self-funded candidates, low-dollar multiple match public financing systems can ensure that ordinary citizens have a voice in today's elections.
A. History of the New York City Campaign Finance Act
In the late 1980s, New York City government was racked by a series of scandals involving city officials soliciting favors from those seeking contracts with municipal government. (5) Several officials went to prison and Donald Manes, Queens Borough President and head of the borough's Democratic County Committee, committed suicide. (6) Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, stated that although the investigations did not actually involve campaign money, "there was a sense at the time that the scandals represented something broader ... it was a concern about the culture." (7)
The Campaign Finance Act (the "Act"), proposed by then-Mayor Ed Koch, was passed by the New York City Council and signed into law on February 29, 1988. (8) Its stated purpose was to bring greater accountability to the political system. (9) On November 8, 1988, the public overwhelmingly approved a city Charter amendment establishing the independent and nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board (the "CFB" or "Board") as a Charter agency. (10) In passing the Act, the City Council found that:
[B]oth the possibility of privilege and favoritism and the appearance of impropriety harm the effective functioning of government. The council further finds that whether or not the reliance of candidates on large private campaign contributions actually results in corruption or improper influence, it has a deleterious effect upon government in that it creates the appearance of such abuses and thereby gives rise to citizen apathy and cynicism. …