The New York City Charter, Campaign Finance Act, and CFB Rules provide the CFB with oversight and enforcement authority over campaign and independent spending for city offices. Although the CFB audits campaigns and reviews independent expenditures thoroughly, there are instances when people in the field and members of the public have information unavailable to the CFB regarding a potential violation of the Charter, Act, or Rules.
Anyone may file a complaint with the CFB if they have knowledge of a specific action or lack of action that seems contrary to the rules and regulations regarding campaign fundraising, campaign or independent expenditures, or other activities under the CFB’s jurisdiction.
Certain activities are beyond the scope of the CFB’s jurisdiction, including:
- violations of state election law concerning ballot access
- conflict of interest violations
- violations of sanitation and litter laws
- potential campaign finance violations associated with elections other than those for the five covered offices of mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, and City Council member
Complaints about these activities should be directed to other agencies. Examples of information that might be the basis of a complaint include:
- campaign contributions or expenditures are not being reported
- reported campaign contributions or expenditures never actually occurred, or the amounts reported are incorrect
- spending that benefits a campaign, made by a third party under the control of a candidate or campaign, is not being reported as an in-kind contribution, or is being reported incorrectly
- coordination or cooperation between a campaign and a third party has benefited the campaign, but expenditures associated with that activity were not reported, or were reported incorrectly
- independent expenditures are not being reported, or are being reported but are not actually independent
- goods or services (including special discounts) donated to a campaign are not being reported, or are being reported incorrectly
- someone asks you to contribute money to a campaign in the name of someone else (no matter what your relationship to that person may be)
- a person who gathers contributions on behalf of a campaign is not being reported as an intermediary
- campaign funds are being used for a purpose other than the campaign for which they are intended, including but not limited to personal use
- mass mailings by public servants in the 90 days prior to an election in which that public servant is a candidate
A formal complaint must:
- be made in writing;
- allege a violation of the Charter, Act, or Rules;
- be based on personal knowledge or, if not, must refer to a specific source for its information;
- be sworn to or affirmed (it must state that the contents of the complaint are true); and
- contain the complainant’s full name and contact information.
When filing a complaint, include as much information as possible, such as:
- times, dates, and places of suspicious activities by campaigns, third parties, or independent spenders
- names of witnesses to or individuals/groups involved in the alleged activities
- media accounts of events
If you have any evidence, attach it to the complaint. Evidence may include:
- campaign literature, posters, or flyers
- campaign paraphernalia
- communications or correspondence
- information regarding who is performing and/or funding the activity
Include reliable contact information so that you can be reached for additional information if needed.
After a Complaint is Filed
The CFB reviews and responds to all complaints. If the CFB determines that the complaint does not merit investigation or is not in substantial compliance with the above requirements, the CFB will notify the complainant of the complaint’s rejection. The CFB may choose to investigate an informal complaint, and if so, will determine the appropriate way to proceed.
If the CFB determines the complaint is formal and does merit investigation, the CFB will acknowledge the complaint and send a copy of the complaint to the respondent (the campaign or independent spender that is the subject of the complaint) within 10 days. The respondent then has 20 days to submit a verified answer (a notarized response that contains a statement affirming the truthfulness of its contents). The answer may include a request for the complaint’s dismissal. The CFB may require a faster response if the complaint is filed close to the election.
The CFB’s investigation may include, but is not limited to:
- desk and field audits
- issuance of subpoenas
- taking sworn testimony
- issuance of document requests and questions to the campaign, independent spender, or other relevant individuals or entities
Once the CFB has acknowledged the complaint, you may not hear from the CFB again until the disposition of the matter, which may not be until after the election. The Board may:
- dismiss the complaint as moot or lacking in merit
- require a campaign or independent spender to take corrective action
- resolve the matter through the audit or enforcement process
Submitting a Complaint
Complaints must be submitted in one of the following ways:
1) By mail or in person to:
New York City Campaign Finance Board
Attention: Special Compliance
100 Church Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10007
2) As an email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org
3) By fax to (212) 409-1705
For more information regarding the complaint process, please see Chapter 12 of the New York City Campaign Finance Board Rules.