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June 18, 2019

City Council advances campaign finance legislation that Comptroller Stringer called a ‘power grab’ by Speaker Johnson

June 12, 2019
In this file photo, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson waits to speak at a press conference on Thursday, April 11, 2019 in Manhattan. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

City Council on Tuesday moved forward with campaign finance legislation that has two likely 2021 candidates for mayor already trading barbs.

Comptroller Scott Stringer’s campaign on Monday accused Council Speaker Corey Johnson of making a “brazen power grab” in an attempt “circumvent the will of the voters” by making last minute changes to the bill to help the councilman’s bid for City Hall, the Daily News first reported.

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Johnson said on Fox 5 NY Tuesday morning that this is “patently not true.”

The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos, would force some candidates, like Stringer, to refund thousands in donations if they wanted to take advantage of increased taxpayer-backed campaign funds in the 2021 elections.

The bill would also increase the total amount that candidates can collect from the public matching funds program.

The measure was approved by a Council committee five to one on Tuesday afternoon, with one member absent. The full Council is expected to approve the legislation this week.

“I want to wake up in a city where elected officials don’t work for big money,” Kallos (D-Manhattan) said before the vote.

Councilman Kalman Yeger, the lone “no” voter, said the Council was “voting to put money into politicians’ pockets so that they can send campaign flyers.”

“This is not about getting big money out of politics,” Yeger (D-Brooklyn) said before voting against the bill. “This is about … politicians dipping their own hands into the pockets of the taxpayers to swipe the cash, to do it now, when it’s under the radar.”

The public matching funds program gives candidates a match of taxpayer money for certain qualifying private donations. City voters increased that match to $8 in public funds for every $1 in qualifying donations, up to the first $250 of a contribution for citywide candidates, as part of a ballot referendum last November.

Voters also approved increasing the maximum payout of taxpayer matching funds from 55% of the spending limit to 75%. The Kallos bill will further increase the limit voters approved to 88.8%.

“I don’t know what king of arrogance it takes to turn around, eight months, seven months after voters delivered a vote and say, ‘No, voters, you’re wrong,’ ” Yeger said.

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Candidates who want the increased taxpayer match are limited at $2,000 from any one contributor. Any 2021 candidates who prefer the preexisting donation limit of $5,100 can only get the old 6-to-1 match. Candidates like Stringer had the option of taking the the 8-to-1 match starting in 2019, while using the old $5,100 limit — and 6-to-1 match — for any donations received in 2018.

But the legislation the committee passed on Tuesday would require candidates “refund” any 2018 contributions over the $2,000 limit if they want to be a part of the 8-to-1 match going forward.

On the eve of the committee vote, Stringer’s campaign said Johnson “is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself.” Johnson said Tuesday morning that Stringer’s accusation in the News story about the bill was “silly and laughable in some ways because it doesn’t comport with reality.”

“It’s what we did for the public advocate’s race, so we’re doing it now,” Johnson said on Fox 5 NY. “This is about clean elections. This is about saying you have to abide by one set of rules, and he has a lot of money in the bank. He’s sitting on $2.3 million.”

Johnson’s 2021 committee had banked $88,481 as of January. The speaker only raised $210 between January 2018 and this past Jan. 11, while Stringer has taken in more than $1 million during that time, financial disclosures show.

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