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Smart Money: NYC Campaign Finance System Will Matter In Mayor's Race Once Again

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For the first time since 1997, the city's campaign finance program will have a profound impact on this year's mayor's race as most of the leading candidates will be limited in the amount of money they can spend. Bobby Cuza explains in part two of his week-long series, “Smart Money."

The Democratic primary is still five months away, but we know already how much the candidates will all be spending, about $6.4 million each -- the cap for those in the city’s campaign finance program.

“It does create a level playing field and you know, we haven’t seen that in over a decade in this city," candidate Bill de Blasio said.

That's because Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted out of the program and poured 266 million of his own dollars into the last three elections, outspending his last opponent 11-to-1.

This time, all the Democrats are in the program, which matches every dollar raised in small private donations with six dollars in public funding.

In turn, candidates must cap their primary spending at $6.4 million. The same cap applies for the general election.

As of mid-March, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was far ahead in the fundraising race, with $5.6 million in unspent funds.

But political insiders predict everyone will reach the limit.

"In terms of the primary there should be no real outspending," political consultant Jefrey Pollock said. "Chris Quinn is the frontrunner in terms of raised money, but it doesn’t matter in terms of dollars."

Maxing out early though, has its advantages.

"There’s the real potential that at some point in the mayor’s race, you can be done fundraising and spend your time talking to voters, not having to raise money," Quinn said.

In the Republican primary, Joe Lhota and George McDonald are expected to take matching funds.

But billionaire supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis has said he will opt out of the program.

Catsimatidis also said he won’t vastly outspend the others like Bloomberg had. Supporters say the program allows candidates to focus more on issues.

"It’s about, what’s your vision for the city of New York? As opposed to let me try to outspend somebody else dramatically five-to-one, 10-to-one," candidate William Thompson said. "That option, that opportunity isn’t there."

With their spending limited, candidates will likely choose to conserve resources and hold off on major ad buys until it matters most in the late summer months, when most of the public really begins to pay attention to the race.

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