When overwhelming favorites get matching funds

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Katz, Torres, Brewer and Diaz. (Images via Qchorn.com, Torres2013, Norwood News, and Council.)
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When the New York City Campaign Finance Board met this morning, they approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in matching payments to candidates who face relatively little opposition heading into November.

The payments were approved as part of the city's matching funds programs, which gives candidates $6 for each of the first $175 they raise from eligible contributors. The program is meant to encourage candidates to seek a greater number of small donations from low-dollar donors, and it forces candidates to abide by strict spending limits and, in some cases, to participate in official debates.

But the program can be problematic in New York's general elections, when the board dispenses large sums of taxpayer dollars to Democratic candidates who face only nominal opposition from Republican candidates. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about six-to-one across the city, and it's even more lopsided in some Democratic strongholds.

That presents a quandary for some of the politicians, who are entitled to the money, but can also choose to return it to the city.

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Melinda Katz, who won a tough primary to become the Democratic nominee for Queens borough president, was approved to get $28,000 from the NYCCFB, despite being an overwhelming favorite to defeat her Republican opponent.

A spokesman for the Katz campaign said they are evaluating what to do with the money.

"If there is not a viable campaign on the Republican side, then of course we will not use taxpayer dollars," the spokesman said in a statement.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who crushed his primary opponent and faces only token opposition in November, was approved to receive $188,000 in matching funds. A spokesman for Diaz told Capital, "We do not anticipate spending these funds, just as we did not spend funds that were issued to us by the CFB for the primary, and we expect to return them to the CFB in full. However, we cannot unilaterally disarm prior to Election Day, especially given the unpredictable nature of campaigns."

The NYCCFB also decided to give more than $40,000 to Ritchie Torres, who won a crowded Democratic primary in the Bronx's heavily Democratic 15th Council District. Torres said his victory in November isn't a forgone conclusion. "I am running against an opponent who has the same exact name as a 12-year incumbent," he said, referring to Joel Rivera.

Gale Brewer, who won a tough four-way primary to become the Democratic nominee for Manhattan borough president, will get more than $72,000 in matching funds. She faces perennial candidate David Casavis, a Republican who once paid a visit to the New York Times building, in an unsuccessful attempt to have them acknowledge his campaign.

In a brief interview, Brewer said her campaign team is meeting shortly to discuss this and other matters. "We will not use all of it," she said, but that "we need some," since Casavis is actively campaigning on a major-party line. She also said she anticipates returning a significant portion of the matchng funds.

Matching funds that are not spent at the end of a campaign are returned to the NYCCFB.