Analysis: New York State 2018 Campaign Contributions

The Brennan Center analyzed the role of New York’s wealthiest donors in the state’s campaign finance system, using data from the National Institute of Money in Politics, the Federal Election Commission and the Campaign Finance Institute.

December 20, 2018

The Brennan Center analyzed the influence of New York’s wealthiest donors on the state’s campaign finance system, using data from the National Institute of Money in Politics, the Federal Election Commission, and the Campaign Finance Institute. The analysis produced the following findings:

  • Just 100 people donated more to state candidates in the 2018 elections than all 137,000 estimated small individual donors ($175 or less) combined.1
  • This disparity between mega-donors and everyone else in New York does not include the tens of millions of dollars in contributions to candidates from LLCs, PACs, corporations, and other non-party groups, much of which also came from the state’s biggest donors and special interests.2
  • All told, a majority of all contributions to state candidates in the 2018 cycle came from individuals and entities who gave $10,000 or more.3
  • In contrast, small donors who gave $175 or less made up only 4.5% of the overall donors to statewide and legislative races during the 2018 election cycle in New York. This likely ranks New York, yet again, close to the very bottom of states in terms of share of donations that come from small donors.4

Governor Cuomo has repeatedly proposed that New York adopt a small donor public financing system similar to New York City’s. Most recently, in his 2017 budget he proposed dramatically lowering contribution limits for all offices, and provide public matching funds at a $6-to-$1 rate for contributions up to $175 from city residents. An analysis released today by the Campaign Finance Institute shows that, if enacted, this proposal could end the stranglehold that the biggest donors have over New York campaign fundraising, drastically increasing the influence of small donors and everyday New Yorkers by making their contributions worth more.

 


1. Based on data provided by the National Institute of Money in Politics, we calculate that the total contributions from the 100 highest contributors to candidates was $7,525,311, considerably more than the small donor total of $5,807,914. Since full details on candidates’ small donations are not available publicly (candidates are not required, but sometimes do, voluntarily disclose individual contributions of $99 and below), we can only estimate the number of donors giving $99 or below by dividing “unitemized” contributions with the average donation in this category that have been itemized, which in the 2018 election cycle was $40. This methodology, which was adopted from a 2013 academic paper that studied the impact of small donors in elections, produced an estimate of 137,000 small donors (individuals giving $175 or below) who donated in 2018. For purposes of this analysis we examined contributions to all candidates for the state legislature as well as statewide office.

2. We calculate that LLCs, PACs, corporations, and other non-party groups gave over $55 million to candidates, based on data provided by the National Institute of Money in Politics.

3. Based on data provided by the National Institute of Money in Politics, we calculate that individuals, LLCs, and NPOs who gave more than than $10,000 each to statewide and legislative races contributed $65,083,209 in sum. There were $127,830,100 in overall contributions to statewide and legislative races in 2018.

4. Based on data provided by the National Institute of Money in Politics, we calculate there were $127,830,100 in overall contributions to statewide and legislative races in 2018 and the small donor total, $5,807,914 only makes 4.5% of that. Campaign Finance Institute analyses over the years, show New York consistently among the states with the lowest levels of participation from small donors.

5. The study “Small Donor Matching Funds for New York State Elections: A Policy Analysis of the Potential Impact and Cost” found that the availability of matching funds would triple donations by small donors (from 9% to 29%) to 2018 Assembly candidates.