From City Hall:
Get those checkbooks ready: big bonuses for campaign consultants, post-election shopping sprees or even as many victory and thank-you parties as can be scheduled can now be paid for out of taxpayer-provided matching funds with impunity, thanks to a court ruling last week.
Through the last election cycle, any candidate whose campaign was determined to have wasted matching funds was forced by the Campaign Finance Board to repay the funds personally. But a broad ruling issued by the state supreme court's appellate division on Feb. 8 significantly diminished the CFB’s power to enforce this liability. In 2013 and beyond, experts on both sides of the case agree, candidates will now have much less to worry about when it comes to forcing them to repay excess, unspent taxpayer-funded campaign dollars to the city, or risk being personally liable for post-election misspending.
A three-judge appellate division panel found that under city law, candidates can only be forced to make CFB-ordered payments out of their campaign accounts. A candidate cannot be compelled to pay for these expenses out of his or her own pocket, the court found.
In other words, if a candidate has $0 left in their account because he has paid all his consultants bonuses after election night, the CFB can no longer personally dock the candidate for the money.
The ruling may create a perverse incentive for candidates to spend every last dollar in their campaign accounts, since they would face no repercussions for not returning the money, CFB officials say. The ruling also may let campaigns off the hook for the underreporting campaign receipts, which the CFB has also in the past docked candidates for personally.