New York City’s Campaign Finance Law is Unconstitutional

Daniel Katz, Staff Writer

The New York City campaign finance system was created in 1988 amid widespread scandal in New York City, and has been amended numerous times.1 That same year, the New York State Commission on Government Integrity issued a report outlining reforms that would improve the integrity of the New York City system.2 The report called for many changes, such as banning corporate contributions, treating loans as contributions, and enacting special rules for those doing business with the city,3 that have since been incorporated into the New York City campaign finance system. Because the New York City campaign finance system has been the subject of numerous reports, debates, and hearings over the 20 years that it has been in existence, it is viewed by many as a model for campaign finance reform.4

The New York City campaign finance system contains provisions that would be unconstitutional if mandatory, but which are acceptable because the candidates volunteer to participate, in essence subjecting themselves to the limits.  In the declaration of legislative intent and findings, the City Council stated that the goals and purposes of the Act are “to improve popular understanding of local issues, to increase participation in local elections by voters and candidates, to reduce improper influence on local officers by large campaign contributors and to enhance public confidence in local government.”5

Prior to the 2007 amendments, the City’s public campaign financing system was an entirely voluntary system.  In order to be eligible for public matching funds, candidates voluntarily accepted expenditure limits, contribution limits lower than state limits, more extensive disclosure requirements than state requirements, as well as a ban on corporate contributions, which are allowed under state law. Continue reading “New York City’s Campaign Finance Law is Unconstitutional”