NYC City Council Banning Anonymous Campaign Ads

August 20, 2014 Updated: August 20, 2014

NEW YORK—During the 2013 City Council elections, there was more money spent on independent mailers than all of the candidates’ expenditures combined. A glaring loophole in the campaign finance law led to negative ads that were at times attacks on candidates‘ personal lives, backgrounds, or beliefs, councilmembers said Wednesday before a committee hearing on legislation to ban these ads.

“We want candidates to own up to what they’re saying,” said councilmember Dan Garodnick, who is introducing a bill that will require every ad or communication paid for or authorized by a candidate to disclose that information.

Councilmember Brad Lander is introducing another bill that will require all independent ads and communications relating to local elections to make clear it is funded by an outside group, and include the name of the organization’s owner, CEO, and top three donors. While many of the ads were hostile, the only information voters had about where the information was coming from was the vague and positive sounding organization names, Lander said.

“The Supreme Court said we can’t limit spending, but we want to do anything we can to prevent hiding behind innocent sounding names … that tell nothing,” said Brent Ferguson of the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group that worked on the legislation.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who had negative ads about him circulated in his district, said these mailers also discourage voters from participating. “We don’t want to turn them off by these ads … we want people to engage in the system,” Menchaca said.

A City Council committee is voting on the bill Wednesday, and it will move to the full Council to be voted on Thursday, Aug. 21.