Press Releases

City Bar Calls for Reforms to New York’s Election-Law Enforcement and the Creation of a Non-Partisan Agency to Regulate Public Campaign Finance

Issues Report and Will Testify to the Public Campaign Financing Commission Today

New York, September 10, 2019 – The New York City Bar Association has issued a report examining the reforms adopted in the wake of the 2014 Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption related to the enforcement policies and practices of the New York State Board of Elections. The report, entitled “Safeguarding New York’s Elections: The Unfinished Business of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption,” concludes that further reforms are necessary for the fair and effective enforcement of state Election Law. It also recommends that the State Legislature create a non-partisan agency with responsibility for enforcement of campaign finance rules, including oversight of the Legislature’s planned public-financing system for state legislative candidates. These recommendations will be delivered in testimony to the New York State Public Campaign Finance Commission during its public hearing today.

The Legislature responded to the Moreland Commission’s findings by establishing the Chief Enforcement Counsel (“CEC”) within the State Board of Elections (“SBOE”), who is vested with sole authority in the SBOE to investigate alleged violations of state campaign-finance and election laws. According to the City Bar report, “In many respects the CEC has functioned as the politically independent watchdog that the Moreland Commission envisioned, taking action against politically powerful groups regardless of party affiliation or leanings.” While the independence of the CEC has been challenged, the report says, it has also outperformed the prior SBOE Enforcement Unit by a variety of metrics. These include an increase in formal investigations and of civil enforcement proceedings.

Nevertheless, the report laments that the CEC is hamstrung by a cumbersome statutory scheme of enforcement that “undoubtedly place[s] pressure on the CEC to settle (most often for a small fine)” and that “have also undermined statutory prima face evidence of willful violations.” Data suggests that the CEC remains woefully unable to enforce various SBOE reporting deadlines, or to compel corrections from candidates who file deficient reports. These problems of efficient enforcement are compounded by the fact that there are “no defined penalties for filing a late report, even though, as noted above, hundreds of reports are regularly filed months after reporting deadlines.”

The City Bar report consequently recommends reforms that will “Revise the administrative hearing process…Establish streamlined procedures for enforcing routine violations…Establish comprehensive civil penalties…[and] Require more transparency of enforcement activities.”

Finally, the report notes the manner in which these reforms could dovetail with recommendations of the Public Campaign Finance Commission: “The New York City Bar Association has advocated for non-partisan administration of elections, as well as for the creation of a single ethics body that would oversee campaign finance regulation. We would thus support a recommendation by the commission for a new non-partisan agency, one that would ultimately regulate all aspects of campaign finance, not simply the public financing system. The establishment of such an agency would not only best safeguard taxpayer dollars, but would also encourage the development of a more coherent and consistent enforcement of the campaign finance rules against all regulated parties.”

The report can be read here: