A mock-up of the labels proposed by City Council members to identify communications paid for by independent expenditures.
Credit: City Councilman Brad Lander's Office
City Council members announced legislation Tuesday that would restrict campaign expenditures from political groups and require more transparency of who is funding them.
Through "independent expenditures," corporations and individuals can spend spend more money than is normally allowed to influence elections, so long as candidates are distanced from the cash. Such expenditures are particularly worrisome in City Council races, officials said, because big spending can potentially overwhelm competing candidates limited to spending $168,000.
The package of legislation that will be introduced this fall would close the so-called "LLC loophole" that treats LLC as individuals and allows them to donate up to $150,000 a year to political committees.
The proposed legislation would also require the disclosure of top donors in ads and other communications paid for by independent expenditures.
Another part of the legislation would slap a "warning" label on communications paid for by such expenditures.
Brad Lander, one of the council members proposing the bill, said donation-matching by the city's Campaign Finance Board "levels the playing field."
"But huge, independent expenditures by corporations threaten to upend that system," Lander said in a statement. "In some City Council races, developers are spending several times more than the candidates themselves."
Lander specifically calls out "Jobs for NY," a group spearheaded by the Real Estate Board of NY to support the interests of real estate developers.
Jobs for NY raised over $6 million for this year's election cycle, according to Lander's office. Taking in large contributions, the group could spend three to five times more than what City Council candidates are allowed to spend, as much as $85 a vote.
Shrugging off the proposal, Jobs for NY spokesman Phil Singer said in a statement that the group complies with city and state campaign fince
"Considering that much of what Mr. Lander is proposing does not appear to be legal—based on what the Campaign Finance Board itself has said—it is clear that that this proposal is a political document that has no chance of withstanding legal scrutiny," Singer said. "The city would be better served if Mr. Lander focused on developing proposals that create good jobs and additional housing and improve economic opportunities for New Yorkers."
Still, advocates believe the bill will ultimately help voters.
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY, said special interest can influence elections from "behind a veil of secrecy."
"That's a huge problem for voters who can't make an informed decision or hold candidates responsible for their backers," Lerner said in a statement.
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