3:40 pm Jan. 16, 20133
Under New York City's distinctive program of public campaign financing, candidates can raise as much money as they want, but only some of it is eligible to be matched with public money at a 6:1 ratio, and there's a spending cap.
The spending cap essentially has the same evening-out effect among candidates who participate in the program as a salary cap does among professional sports teams, shifting the emphasis away from overall wealth toward the ability to spend a limited fortune wisely. (This didn't apply to Michael Bloomberg, who self-financed and didn't take matching funds.)
In the out-years before an election, the spending cap is $303,000. The spending limit for the primary is $6,426,000.
I looked at the raising and spending so far of the major Democrats: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former city comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller John Liu.
Here's a chart of their spending during this mayoral cycle.
Quinn's early burst of spending is distinctive, as is Liu's late uptick.
But Quinn's early spending is somewhat overstated here. Her campaign actually spent only about $60,000, and the other $400,000 is a "spending limit adjustment" that the NYCCFB made after term limits were changed in 2009.
Before the change, which is to say before Michael Bloomberg was eligible to run again and Quinn was forced to put her plans on hold for four more years, she was fund-raising for a bid for mayor, a race for which the spending limits are higher. After the change, she dropped down to a smaller-gauge race for Council, with a lower spending cap.
The adjustment represents the campaign finance board's determination of how much of that early money she's eligible to spend for a later race. You can read more about that here.
Liu's late uptick in spending came after The Times raised questions about the source of some of his donations. A good chunk of it was on lawyers. His former campaign treasurer, Jenny Hou, and a fund-raiser, Oliver Pan, are facing federal charges on breaking city campaign laws. Liu himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
But Liu's spending is only slightly ahead of de Blasio's, whose campaign has a sizable roster of consultants and campaign workers.
Thompson's apparent frugality is in part a function of the fact that he was late getting his campaign off the ground. He didn't really activate his campaign until the first half of 2011, nearly a year after his rivals.
This second chart shows how much money each of the candidates has left to spend under the spending cap.
I arrived at the amounts by taking the candidates' total disbursements, which includes actual spending and outstanding liabilities--bills they'll have to pay before the election--then subtracted the amount they're allowed to spend in the out-year: $303,000. Then I took that number for each of them and subtracted it from the amount they're allowed to spend in the primary: $6,426,000. That's how much they have left to spend.
Thompson, according to my math, has the most room to spend. But his advantage in this category over Quinn, whose relatively high name recognition and leftover pile of cash from the previous cycle has allowed her to spend lightly in the early going, is only about $300,000. In the home stretch of a heated primary, that amount could be a media buy, or a mailer. In other words, it could be a meaningful difference if the contest is otherwise really, really close.
CORRECTION: The second graph has been corrected. Quinn has $5,816,773 left to spend, not $5,816,793.