Matching funds for Dummies

Office of the Mayor

Matching funds for Dummies

How do matching funds work in New York City?
July 31, 2017

Insisting that the mayoral primary race will be competitive, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio filed a “statement of need” with the city Campaign Finance Board, requesting more than $2 million in taxpayer-supported matching funds. The Campaign Finance Board’s matching funds program can be tricky to understand, so we broke it down for you.

What is the matching funds program?

The Campaign Finance Board implemented it to encourage those running for office to engage with voters rather than seek large contributions from wealthy special interests. The program matches contributions between $10-$175 from New York City residents. Funds are reciprocated at a $6-to-$1 rate, so if someone donates $175, it will be matched at $1,050.

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Who's eligible?

Anyone running for municipal office (mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, and City Council) is eligible. Candidates must also raise a minimum amount of donations from a minimum amount of donors, depending on which position they’re running for. For those seeking the position of mayor, the candidate must raise a minimum of $250,000 from at least 1,000 donors. The candidate must be on the ballot and have an opponent on the ballot. Program participants must also agree to abide by campaign spending limits.

What are the regulations?

Public funding is reduced in races with limited opposition. In races that are not considered competitive, public funds are capped at 25 percent of the maximum. The cap does not apply if a participant is running in a primary or special election in which no incumbent is seeking re-election.

What's a statement of need?

Candidates to whom the cap applies can override it and request maximum funding by filling out a statement of need. In order to be approved, the race must be considered competitive.

What qualifies a race as competitive?

Those who fill out a statement of need must provide documentation that an opposing candidate falls under one or more of the following categories:

  • Has the ability to self-finance their campaign.

  • Has been endorsed by a citywide, statewide, or federal elected official representing the area covered by the election, or a membership organization with over 250 members.

  • Has had significant media exposure in the year preceding the election.

  • In the last eight years preceding the election, has received 25 percent or more of the vote in an election for public office in the area that is the subject of the current election.

  • Has a name that is substantially similar to assist with voter confusion.

  • Is a chairman, president, or district manager of a community board (City Council or borough-wide races only).

  • Has a spouse, partner, sibling, parent or child who holds or has held elective office in the area in the past 10 years.

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Are there any limits on public funds?

Candidates are entitled to 55 percent of their total spending limit. The spending limit varies by position. The mayoral primary spending limit is $6,969,000, so the maximum amount a candidate can receive is $3,832,950.

Where does that money go?

Candidates who receive matching funds can only spend that money to further their campaign*, and are required to return all funds that were not spent. Off years (years prior to the election year), primary elections, and general elections are considered 3 different cycles and each has its own individual spending limit. If a candidate does not spend the entire limit in one cycle, the funds remaining can carry over to the next cycle. All campaigns are audited, and those that receive public funds must provide a thorough accounting of the way public funds were spent. Any remaining funds after the general election must be returned to the city.

* What qualifies as “money to further the campaign"?

  • TV and radio ads, staff salaries, campaign office expenses, rent, literature, postage, fundraising costs, petition expenses and Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts.

  • Computer hardware, software and other office technology purchased more than two weeks before the election.

  • Food and beverages for campaign workers and volunteers.

  • Community events, including attendance at events hosted by civic and neighborhood associations.

  • Demonstrating eligibility for public funds or defending against a claim that public funds must be repaid.

  • Travel related to a campaign or the holding of public office.

  • Expenditures to facilitate, support or otherwise assist in the execution or performance of the duties of public office.

  • Legal defense of non-criminal matters arising out of the campaign.

  • A single post-election event for staff, volunteers and/or supporters held within 30 days of the election.

  • Payment of non-criminal penalties or fines arising out of the campaign.

  • Ballot proposal advocacy if there are clear indications that the expenditures relate to the candidate.

  • Contributions to charitable organizations.

  • Contributions to candidate, political or constituted party committees.

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Jessica Newman