Powers wants to make it easier for candidates to run

Council Member Keith Powers has introduced a package of campaign finance legislation that would ease paperwork burdens on smaller campaigns. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday, freshman Council Member Keith Powers turned some of the more frustrating experiences of being a candidate into a package of campaign finance bills aimed at making it easier for candidates to run for office.

The council member said he expects that tweaking the current regulations will lead to less burdensome paperwork, specifically for first-time candidates who don’t expect to rake in big bucks.

“I discovered while running that you had to jump over a number of hurdles to run for office,” said Powers. “(The legislation) can make it easier without undermining any safeguarding around public dollars. So they don’t have to commit all their rime to fundraising, but actually talking about issues.”

The first bill, which lists Diana Ayala as a co-sponsor, would allow candidates to get matching funds for smaller contributions. Currently, a candidate needs a minimum of 75 donations from donors within the district that are at least $10 each. The bill would change the minimum donation needed to qualify for matching funds to $5.

This, he said, would allow some candidates to qualify sooner, but also make a difference in some districts where the candidate might not have been eligible otherwise.

“I recognize every district has different dynamics,” said Powers. “In some, 10 to five will be a determining factor.”

He would also raise the threshold for maximum donations that would qualify for the program from $175 per individual to $250. The co-sponsor on this bill is Brad Lander.

Another bill, co-sponsored by Ben Kallos, would create a pilot program for full matching funds for special elections in City Council races.

Powers is also trying to raise the amount a candidate would be able to collect before he or she is required to submit disclosure statements. Currently, campaigns with $1,000 or more must submit statements to the Campaign Finance Board and, said, Powers “go through a very rigorous process” involving an audit. Powers wants to raise the amount to $3,000.

His co-sponsor on this bill is Bob Holden. However, he got the idea from an opponent of his in the Democratic Primary, Barry Shapiro. He said following the race, Shapiro, who ran a grassroots campaign, approached him with the suggestion.

The City Council member, who previously worked as a lobbyist, also identified a potential business loophole he wants to close. Currently, contribution limits on anyone doing business with the city don’t kick in until a land use application that person has filed has been approved.

Powers said he would like for “Doing Business” limits to be applied as soon as an application is filed, which would limit the donation maximum at that time from $4,950 to $400.

“It’s a significant reduction in campaign limits for anyone anticipating doing business with the city in the future,” he said.

Powers, who spoke with Town & Village about the bills prior to introducing them at City Hall, said he wasn’t anticipating any pushback.

“They’re not radical changes,” said Powers. “I think they strengthen the original intent of the campaign finance law.”

One thought on “Powers wants to make it easier for candidates to run

  1. I applaud Keith and the other council members for taking this up. The audit requirements of a regular campaign are onerous, and the $1000 cap of a small campaign is far too limited.

    In my testimony before the Campaign Finance Board I suggested that the donation cap for council be limited to $500 (or less) rather than the current $2750. Without doing something like this, raising the small campaign cap will have little effect.

    What can be the purpose of having such a high donation cap? It’s certainly high enough to make candidates feel as if they owe something to their largest donors.

    When I examined the largest donations to council candidates for the last election in our district, I found:

    1. Donations from several employees of single companies.
    2. Donations from several family members associated with single companies
    3. Many donations from employees of real estate and capital management/investment firms with real estate divisions.
    4. Many donations from lawyers (bear in mind that sometimes lawyers have clients who want something from the city.)

    These particular concentrations of large donations create the impression of wanting influence.

    Lowering the donation cap might lower donor influence and also reduce the staggering amount of mail and flyers voters get from just a few well-financed candidates. A lower cap would also allow less-well financed voices to break through and hopefully might lead to more considered voting.

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