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Bloomberg’s Public Financing Misstep

Bloomberg complained a possible $90 million might be too much to spend on providing public funds in NYC’s municipal elections…

February 7, 2008
Mayor Bloomberg recently complained publicly that a possible $90 million price tag might be too much to spend on providing public funds in municipal elections. He suggested a few changes to New York City’s public matching funds system, stating: “If you don’t have any competition, you shouldn’t get money, and you shouldn’t be able to hire relatives.”

This is a tad misleading. Any candidate who is unopposed is ineligible for public matching grants. See New York City Campaign Finance Board Rules 5–01(i)(2). The Mayor may be referring to the more complicated problem of candidates who face only “nominal” opposition. Not being clairvoyant, there is no way for the Campaign Finance Board to know whether a candidate will garner 1 percent or 51 percent of the vote before the election. Therefore, it seems reasonable for the Board to continue to provide public funds to those who are opposed and withhold public funds from those who are unopposed.

As for hiring family members, any candidate in New York City is legally required to hire a treasurer for his or her campaign. For a small or a first time campaign, the only person willing to serve in this capacity might be a spouse or a sibling. Since candidates must have a treasurer, it makes sense that a treasurer who is a family member could be paid in part with public funds, once the candidate qualifies. But the Mayor may be right about compensating the other campaign workers who are not statutorily required. Using public dollars to pay a candidate’s cousin to distribute campaign literature, when others would do it for minimum wage or on a volunteer basis, may not be the most prudent use of public funds.

However, with a proposed $9,989,000,000 (that’s nearly $10 billion) budget for fiscal 2009, New York City could still definitely afford to spend $90 million (or less than one percent of its overall budget) on making its elections democratic.