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June 12, 2007 – INTRODUCTION 586:
Delivered by Doug Israel, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy to the Committee on Governmental Operations
June 12, 2007

Good Afternoon Chairman Felder and members of the Governmental Operations Committee. I am Doug Israel, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for Citizens Union, a century old good-government organization committed to ensuring fair and competitive elections. Citizens Union has long been a supporter of the city’s campaign finance program since its inception in 1988. Even more so, Citizens Union has supported the notion that ensuring a level playing field for candidates competing for office and limiting the role that money plays in elections and politics are two of the cornerstones of a healthy and participatory democracy. We have actively supported the enactment of legislation aimed at reducing the reality and appearance of “pay-to-play” whereby large contributors to candidates either gain or suffer from the perception of special access and influence over the political process. We are pleased that the city has moved one step closer to making this a reality.

In addition to our support of “pay-to-play” legislation, Citizens Union has consistently advocated for changes to the city’s campaign finance program to ensure its relevance and effectiveness by adapting to changing times and making it more appealing and easier for candidates to participate and comply with the program’s requirements.

Introduction 586 strengthens the city’ model campaign finance program in all of these ways. While there will always be ways that the city can improve the program, Citizens Union strongly supports the introduced legislation and commends the Committee on Governmental Operations, the Mayor, the Speaker and the Campaign Finance Board, and their respective staffs for their collective abilities and leadership in reaching a vitally important agreement on how best to improve a program that has been essential to supporting viable candidates, ensuring clean campaigns, and providing more competitive elections in our city. We specifically want to thank you, Chairman Felder, Speaker Quinn, Deputy Chief of Staff Maura Keaney, Legislative Director Rob Newman, Deputy Counsel Jim Karas, and Committee Counsel DeNora Johnson for all of our innovative thinking and hard work on behalf of New Yorkers and in support of the public interest.

Specifically, Citizens Union supports the following modifications to the city’s model campaign finance program:

  1. restricting the level of contributions from those “doing business with the city,” making those contributions non-matchable under the campaign finance program and creating appropriate databases for the city to track these entities and individuals;
  2. broadening the definition of a fundraising intermediary, or “bundler,” to include anyone who solicits a contribution for a campaign. Under the current system, only those outside a campaign who receive and deliver contributions on behalf of the campaign are considered intermediaries. This reform requires that those who solicit contributions are also listed as bundlers;
  3. giving small contributors a greater say in the process of electing our local representatives by creating a six-to-one match for contributions of $175 or less which will increase the importance and value of small contributions;
  4. expanding the existing ban on corporate contributions to include limited liability companies (LLCs), limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and other forms of non-incorporated businesses;
  5. closing the loophole that allowed contributors to give above the limit contributions to transition and inaugural committees;
  6. clarifying the definition of permissible and impermissible campaign expenses;
  7. streamlining the audit process to provide candidates with more timely audits;
  8. making it more difficult for incumbents to receive matching funds in noncompetitive elections.

We are pleased that the Council in crafting improvements to the administration of the program and enforcement of the law consulted with the Campaign Finance Board to ensure that their authority and prerogative were respected and maintained, and therefore support the administrative changes that have been proposed.

While we offer our strong support today for the bill, there are also several issues that may require us to provide continued review and thought to ensure the program’s ongoing success.

The city needs to monitor closely the impact of the new caps on pay-to-play contributions to ensure that it does not result in unintended consequences of unwittingly denying worthy candidates, particularly those for borough and citywide offices, enough legitimate dollars from civic minded individuals who also do business with the city.

Additionally, as the city moves to limit further institutional contributions in the form of LLCs, the city needs to ensure that an even hand is being applied and review other institutional contributions like those from unions. While there may be compelling and supportable reasons for union contributions to be handled differently from other contributions, the city should engage in a public discussion on the pros and cons of that issue.

Finally, while we recognize that this bill is not the place to tackle this issue, the campaign finance program is challenged with finding a way to address the disparity that exists for candidates participating in the program who face a well-funded or self-funded opponent. This has been an issue in past mayoral races and will most likely be in the future as well. The campaign finance board has proposed some smart measures in the past and hearings should be held on this topic to address this issue moving forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today and for all the work that has been put in to date to craft this legislation. It is encouraging to see the city government, including the Council, approach this issue in such an inclusive and thoughtful manner.

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