Trailblazers PAC Finds Corporate Influence in Local Elections


(HORSEHEADS, N.Y.) – Trailblazers PAC, the organization that endorses candidates from any political party running for local-level office who 100% disclose their campaign funds and follow a higher standard than law requires, has found examples of campaign donations at the hyper-local level that far exceed the scale of donations at federal and state levels.

Campaign finance laws generally allow higher-dollar contributions in contests with larger populations. New York election law allows a person or organization to contribute up to $65,100 (for a primary plus a general election) toward the campaign of a candidate running for a statewide office like Governor, Attorney General, or Comptroller, and up to $19,300 to a State Senate candidate. In contrast, New York law generally caps a single person or organization at donating $2,000 (for a primary plus a general election) to candidates in most of New York’s villages, cities, and towns (with more allowed in municipal districts with larger populations).

It seems reasonable to allow larger contributions in a race for Governor — where the candidate is seeking votes from a population of about 12.7 million voters — than, for example, in a race for Village Trustee in Fairport, a Monroe County suburb of Rochester with just under four thousand (4000) voters, or a race for Town Councilperson in Brookhaven, a town in Suffolk County (Long Island) with around 18,000 voters per council district.

Yet calculated another way, the money into a Village Trustee race swamps the maximum contribution to a statewide campaign. A donor who “maxes out” by giving $2000 in a village of 4000 voters is giving 50 cents ($0.50) to sway each voter in the district, while the law prevents donors to a statewide candidate to giving more than one-third-of-one-cent ($0.003) per voter.

In other words, a maximum donation to a candidate in the Village of Fairport has 72 times the impact on voters as maximum donation in a New York statewide race. If New York were to allow donations to higher-level candidates with the same impact that local-level donations have, then a single person or organization would be allowed to donate over $6.5 million to a candidate for Governor, almost 100 times more than the current statewide limit.

In local-level races, a donor can spend much less, with exponentially greater impact. When an expensive zoning decision is on a municipality’s table, it may be cheaper for a corporation to make multiple small-dollar campaign donations.

In review of campaign finance data available through the New York State Board of Elections,Trailblazers PAC has found examples of local-level donations by companies with business before the municipality (data available in the attached spreadsheet):

In local elections, what may seem like small dollars in the cacophony of donor influence can go a long way. Local-level campaigns often work with total budgets of only a few thousand dollars, and when half of that comes from a single donor, that’s big money in politics.

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