At a testy meeting Friday the Campaign Finance Board ruled that Gifford Miller’s campaign was “not in compliance” with the rules of the public finance system, and so left it out of the last round of matching funds payments (Ferrer, Fields, and Weiner received a total of $848,000 in such funds). But it was not a “final” finding, nor a finding of violation. Miller campaign spokesman Steve Sigmund said the impact of the ruling “is almost nothing.” But $400,000 in ad money—that’s what the Miller bid has had to pull back because of the dispute—ain’t nothing. And the testy exchanges between Miller’s lawyer (also the lawyer for Bronx City Council candidate Steve Kaufman, who has a similar dispute with the board) and commission staff suggested that even though the board didn’t fine Miller or declare him over the spending cap, the decision was still not wonderful news.
The dispute concerns campaign spending that Miller claims is exempt from the expenditure cap because it was devoted to his petitioning effort, but which opponents say actually helped his primary election bid. If the board rules that a significant portion of Miller’s nearly $1 million in claimed petitioning expenses is not exempt, it could push Miller over the $5.7 million spending limit. Literature is at the heart of the matter: Can petition gatherers hand out literature that promotes a candidate, and still be considered exempt? The CFB asked the Miller campaign to prove that it’s claims were legit.
“The Board has reviewed the Miller campaign’s materials to determine if at this time the Miller Campaign has met its burden . . . to show that its exempt claims are valid and that the campaign has thus not exceeded the expenditure limit,” the board’s statement read. “To date, the Miller campaign has failed to do this.” One member, Dale C. Christensen, Jr. dissented, saying the board had not articulated the standard it was asking the Miller campaign to uphold.
Sigmund said the ruling’s impact was “almost nothing” because the campaign has already received about $2.5 million in matching funds. This round of payments would have involved a mere $13,000 in new funds, Sigmund said, and another $130,000 or so in money the campaign qualified for in earlier rounds but was part of the 5 percent that the Board normally withholds.
But hey, money isn’t everything. The principle—and the image—are important, too. The CFB suggests Miller is not complying with a law at the foundation of efforts to reform New York’s government. Sigmund claims the Miller campaign provided more documentation to the CFB than any campaign in history. Someone’s gotta be wrong, right?