What is it?
The New York City Campaign Finance Board's Matching Funds Program was established in 1988 to counter the rapidly-growing cost of running for public office in the city by encouraging candidates to finance their campaigns through small donations from average New Yorkers instead of wealthy special interests. Under the program, in exchange for agreeing to campaign spending limits and increased financial oversight, participating candidates for city office receive six dollars of matching funds for every one dollar they raise through small (under $175) donations from New York City residents. As a result, as one study found, “by pumping up the value of small contributions, the New York City system gives [politicians] an incentive to reach out to their own constituents rather than focusing all their attention on wealthy out-of-district donors, leading them to attract more diverse donors into the political process.”
How is it funded?
Matching funds under the program are paid out from the New York City Campaign Finance Fund—a separate, dedicated account administered by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB). The CFB is funded by requiring the Mayor to include the CFB’s budget request in the City’s annual budget request, which is approved by the City Council, as well as by possible private donations.
Who may participate?
Any candidate for municipal office—mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president or city council—is eligible to participate in the matching funds program, though candidates for state and federal office are not.
What are the requirements to participate?
To participate in the Matching Funds Program, a candidate must:
- Appear on the ballot along with at least one opposing candidate;
- Agree to increased financial oversight fromthe CFB and
- Abide by campaign spending limits (that vary depending on the office sought).
Campaign Spending Limits
|OFFICE||OUT-YEAR LIMIT||PRIMARY ELECTION||GENERAL ELECTION|
|Public Advocate, Comptroller||$328,000||$4,357,000||$4,357,000|
How does a candidate qualify?
To qualify for the Matching Funds Program, in addition to the requirements above, candidates must demonstrate a basic level of community support by meeting a two-part minimum fundraising threshold by:
- Raising a minimum amount of funding through only match-eligible donations (i.e., donations of $175 or less) and
- Receiving contributions (of $10 or more) from a minimum number of residents living in the area they seek to represent.
- Note: Both requirements of the fundraising threshold vary depending on the office sought.
Two-Part Minimum Fundraising Threshold
|OFFICE||MINIMUM FUNDS RAISED||NUMBER OF CONTRIBUTORS|
|Public Advocate, Comptroller||$125,000||500|
|Borough President||$10,000 - $50,094|
(depending on borough)
|OFFICE||MAXIMUM PUBLIC FUNDS|
|Public Advocate, Comptroller||$2,396,350|
What are the amounts of the grant?
As with any matching funds program, the amount of the grant will vary based on the number of eligible donations a candidate receives. The maximum amount of matching funds that can be paid out for a single donation is $1,050 (matching the maximum $175 private donation), and there is a cap on the total amount of public matching funds a candidate can receive, equal to 55 percent of the total expenditure limit.
Has the program worked?
The Matching Funds Program has been remarkably successful in its goal of ensuring that the individuals giving to campaigns represent the city’s racial and economic diversity, in addition to encouraging campaigns to reach out to communities which may have otherwise been ignored. A 2012 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found 90 percent of census blocks in New York City included at least one small (under-$175) donor to a candidate for City Council, compared to the merely 30 percent of census blocks which had a small donor to a candidate for the New York State Assembly (who cannot receive CFB matching funds for small donations).
The study similarly found that the communities which donated to City Council races were more likely to have lower incomes and greater racial diversity than those that gave to State Assembly candidates, and that the pool of small donors grew by 40 percent. Said one elected official, “[S]ince the multiple match increases reliance on small donors, there is less need for a candidate to cozy up to special interests.”
Additionally, a study from the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center found that registered voters who contributed to a 2013 New York City campaign were far more likely to vote in those elections than voters who did not make a contribution, certainly a welcome side effect of the program.