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The New York City Campaign Finance Board: A Local Campaign Finance Disclosure Program

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Although the Grading State Disclosure project is a study of campaign finance disclosure programs at the state level, there are also some excellent programs at the local level. For several years now, many cities around the country have been engaged in electronic filing and Internet disclosure programs – most notably, Los Angeles, New York , San Francisco and Seattle. These local programs provide good models for successful online disclosure at any level of government.

New York's program dovetails with the city's public campaign financing program. Candidates who receive public funds are required to electronically file campaign finance disclosure statements. The program is run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB). This local agency is also responsible for educating New York City voters, distributing public matching funds to candidates, auditing campaign disclosure reports and organizing campaign debates.

At the heart of New York City disclosure is an electronic filing software program called C-SMART (Candidate Software for Managing and Reporting Transactions) that is provided free to city candidates. The first version of the software became available in 1993, and it has been upgraded three times since then. With each upgrade, NYCCFB has enhanced the software's functionality and ensured the software is both technologically up-to-date and stays current with the city's campaign finance laws.

The software is personalized for each filer, which helps facilitate more accurate disclosure. C-SMART also comes equipped with a few “bells and whistles” that are helpful to both the filer and the disclosure agency. For example, the software will generate error messages that warn filers when they omit data that is required in order to receive public matching funds for their contributions, thus helping candidates avoid delays in public funds payments and penalties for incomplete disclosure reports. The software also allows filers to extract data and utilize it in other programs in order to conduct other campaign fundraising activities such as generating thank-you letters to donors. Another beneficial feature simplifies the filer's data entry needs by automatically filling in address information for preexisting donors.

NYCCFB began placing candidate data on the Internet in 1998; the web site,, currently features campaign finance information dating back to 1989. The agency's press secretary reviews the disclosure web site to help ensure its user-friendliness. The database includes contributions and expenditures for candidates who have filed electronically; however, candidates who do not participate in the public financing program, such as current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, do not have to file electronically and therefore their campaign data is not included in the online database.

NYCCFB reports that 80 - 90 percent of candidates are participating in the city's electronic filing program. Visitors to the site can search databases of contributions as well as expenditures. The database search features tell the user how many records a query has retrieved before displaying that information, which allows users to narrow their search criteria in case their query was too broad. Itemized contribution reports provide each donor's occupation and address, the donor's employer and address, and the name of any intermediary who facilitated the contribution. Other data contained in the disclosure reports, such as information about loans, partners and subcontractors, can be searched as well. Itemized data can be downloaded for offline sorting and analyzing.

New York City's electronic filing program has helped journalists analyze campaign finance data and more easily identify trends to report to the public. Since the agency started putting reports online, requests for paper documents have sharply declined. NYCCFB reports that electronic filing has also greatly enhanced the agency's ability to conduct audits of disclosure reports.

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This page was first published on September 17, 2003
| Last updated on September 17, 2003
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