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City Council To Take Up Controversial Campaign Finance Legislation

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The city’s campaign finance system has long been held up as a national model, one that limits the influence of big special interests, but critics say a measure being pushed by the City Council would open up a gaping loophole. NY1’s Bobby Cuza has that story.

When it comes to the city’s elected officials, campaign finance laws are strict.

When a union, for instance, works with a candidate to put out mailers on their behalf, that counts as a campaign contribution and is subject to spending limits.

“I think we have one of the best campaign finance laws in the country, and this is a big step backwards,” said Amy Loprest of the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

New legislation introduced before the City Council Monday, if passed, would allow a union, for instance, to spend an unlimited amount in coordination with a candidate as long as it’s communicating only to its own members.

But the city’s campaign finance board notes the bill also applies to corporations. That loophole, they say, is similar to the one that allows unlimited spending by super PACs on the federal level.

“This would allow the same kind of thing,” Loprest said. “Unlimited spending on elections in coordination with candidates.”

Council leaders say a small non-profit’s internal newsletter is a far cry from a super PAC spending millions on ads.

“You cannot put a television ad on -- you cannot do that now, and have a communication,” Councilmember Gale Brewer said. “This is just member-to-member.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has said critics are overreacting.
Multiple good-government groups have sided with the Council, which says under current law, small groups are subject to spending limits if they so much as ask a candidate for a photo for an internal mailing.

“What it would allow you to do is to call Gale Brewer or call, you know, ‘Michael Jones,’ Council member, and say, I’d like a picture to put in,” Brewer said. “We want to not eliminate that.”

Before it is voted on, the legislation must go to a City Council committee, where it will be the subject of a hearing on Thursday.

“A candidate providing biographical information or a photograph to an organization that wanted to send out some information about that candidate," Loprest said, "that has never been considered coordination.”

It could then be approved by the full council as early as next week.

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