Garodnick Pushes for Ad Transparency

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:00

    East Side councilman hopes that 'with disclosure, perhaps will come more civility' As any New Yorker knows, politics in this town can get nasty. Last election cycle, for instance, featured ads arguing that City Comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer should be behind bars {because he "secretly wired money to criminal enterprises and solicited prostitutes") and others that drew attention to sexual harassment allegations against Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who unsuccesfully ran for city council.

    New legislation proposed by Upper East Side City Council member Dan Garodnick would help prevent anonymous attack ads from being mailed by candidates in all city elections. The law, he said, would equalize individual candidates with a pre-existing law that says such mailings have to be disclosed by independent expenditures, i.e. groups that support or oppose a candidate or cause but aren't officially tied to them.

    "The bill prohibits the use of anonymous mailers by political candidates in city campaigns, a rule that is already in place in federal elections," Garodnick told Our Town. "The rules would be specifically governed by the city's Campaign Finance Board as they are with independent expenditures."

    Garodnick said the CFB already has the forensic capability to find out who's behind a particular piece of mail, and that his bill would place such communications that come from candidates under the same scrutiny. The mailings themselves, said Garodnick, would state who paid for them. If a piece of mail failed to do so, the CFB would investigate and the party responsible would be fined in proportion to the size of the mailing.

    The bill has 21 co-sponsors, including Manhattan council members Margaret Chin, Helen Rosenthal, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and Inez Dickens. "There's an odd disparity between the rules as they apply to independent expenditures and candidates themselves and we want to correct that," said Garodnick. "There should be no ambiguity about the source of political mailings and it is our hope that with disclosure, perhaps will come more civility."

    Upper West Side Council Member Helen Rosenthal said she's supporting the bill because it increases the transparency with which city campaigns are run.

    "This bill creates appropriate transparency and accountability," said Rosenthal. "It's critical for the voters to know who is behind these ads, so they can know how to judge the ads' content. No one should be allowed to hide behind an anonymous attack ad."

    The bill also has the support of Ben Max, founder of, a website devoted to clarity and transparency in city elections.

    "I'm supportive of Council Member Garodnick's bill to incentivize candidates and campaigns to attribute their mailings," said Max. "Anonymous mailings leave the public with less information than it deserves as voters consider their choices and these mailings often contain the most deceptive, exaggerated attacks that would likely become less rampant under his bill."

    The bill has been introduced to the City Council and was referred to the Committee on Governmental Operations. After public testimony and committee debate, and possible amendments, the bill will be put to a committee vote and, if it passes, will be brought before the entire council for a final debate and vote.