Monday, June 25, 2001
City Council Takes Action to Speed Matching Funds to Candidates
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The City Council on Friday moved to adjust the city’s campaign matching fund program, boosting the dollar-for-dollar match candidates currently get to two-to-one, and assuring that the earliest contributions qualify to be matched.
The action came over the objection of Councilman Nate Holden, who said the city should wait several weeks until five current members are gone and five new ones have a chance to vote on it.
The ordinance requires a second vote this week.
Under the current law, private contributions raised over the first six months after a council candidate files don’t count for matching fund program purposes. Only donations that come in beginning 12 months before election day are eligible to be matched with taxpayer money from the city’s $8 million trust account.
The new law would shorten the period in which council candidates can raise money from 18 months to 12 months before an election, assuring that the earliest dollars qualify for matching. For citywide offices, the legal fundraising period would drop from 24 to 18 months and also correspond with the matching fund eligibility period.
Caps on matching funds remain in place. The increased two-to-one match does not in the end give candidates more city money, but simply accelerates the rate at which matching funds are earned.
The changes are expected to make early fundraising more frantic, but also to even the playing field among candidates and promote the notion of spending more time close to election day talking about issues and less time on the phone with potential donors.
Participating in the matching fund program is optional. To qualify for city money, candidates must agree to overall spending caps and to participate in debates.
When any candidate exceeds the cap—including money spent by independent supporters—all of his or her opponents can respond by spending more.
The council on Friday also acted to assure that the matching funds program kicks in on time for candidates for the September Fourth District special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of John Ferraro.
But the action leaves an awkward quirk: Since the other new matching fund law does not take effect until 30 days after the ordinance is published—in other words, probably in August—candidates will spend the first month of their fundraising under the old dollar-for-dollar law and the final weeks under the new two-for-one law.
Candidates for that office must file with the city clerk next week and declare their intention to participate in the matching funds program.
The council yesterday also agreed to require candidates to file their disclosure forms electronically. The move means the public can access contributor information more quickly, since Ethics Commission staff will not have to re-enter data submitted on paper forms.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company