Miller's Campaign Suffers in its Final Days from CFB Decision

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The Gifford Miller for Mayor campaign was dealt a blow today when the campaign finance board decided not to release its final matching funds payment to the candidate. The Miller campaign is trying to put the best face on the decision, but as WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein reports, the action undercuts the campaign in its final, crucial days.

REPORTER: This morning, a campaign finance board staff member read out the amounts of checks the board would be writing to qualified candidates.

FINANCE BOARD: For the office of Mayor; Fernando Ferrer $290,138, C. Virginia Fields $128,333, Anthony Wiener $430,233. For the office of Public Advocate...

REPORTER: Not on the list, of course, was City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, whose campaign had hoped to get $140,000 today in exchange for complying with campaign finance rules. Campaign Finance Board Chair Frederick Schwartz said the Miller campaign had not demonstrated it was in compliance with the rules regarding collecting signatures to get on the ballot – known as “petitioning.”

SCHWARTZ: The campaign did not provide the board with a factual description of the activities performed relating to the petitioning process and an accompanying rationale that would assist or permit the board to assess whether the campaign’s exempt and non-exempt activities are fairly allocated...

REPORTER: Cut through the legalese and the problem for the Miller campaign is this: campaigns have to spend a certain amount of money just complying with election laws. The campaign finance board says that money doesn’t count towards spending caps. Most campaigns exempt things like legal fees and costs of filing disclosure forms as well as money they spend collecting signatures to get on the ballot. It turns out the Miller campaign collected a whole lot more signatures than anyone else, and spent a lot more money than the other campaigns doing so.

The Miller campaign said 20 percent of its expenditures were exempt, compared to 7 percent of expenses of the Ferrer campaign. That prompted two other rivals, Virginia Fields and Anthony Wiener, to charge that what Miller was really trying to do was build a grassroots get-out-the vote effort but claiming it as an exempt expense. After today’s meeting, the New York Public Interest Research Groups’ Gene Russianoff said the Miller campaign pushed the legal limit – and was caught.

RUSSIANOFF: the Board’s sticking by its opinion that the Miller campaign spent money that counts towards its spending ceiling and try to get away with calling it something else.

REPORTER: The decision has gotten Miller into his second ethical flap this campaign. The first was over his use of $1.6 million taxpayer dollars for a campaign-style mailing. That mailing caused the New York Times to accuse Miller of “flunking his first big ethical test” in its editorial endorsing rival Ferrer. Russianoff says this taints Miller in voters’ minds.

RUSSIANOFF: In my view the Miller campaign has legal arguments to make, I’ve read their briefs, but I think they’ve made a bad political mistake.

REPORTER: It’s a costly one, too. Because the Campaign Finance Board can assess candidates triple damages if they exceed campaign spending caps, the Miller campaign cut its vital last minute advertising buy in half.

MILLER: And I'm gonna be a mayor that never forgets that every momement of every day in this city...

REPORTER: In Union Square this afternoon, Miller gathered a group of council members around him. But they – and Miller – had to shout over a lone anti-government protester trying to drown them out.

MILLER: Thank you all so much for your support and let's move on to victory on primary day. Now, who has questions?

REPORTER: There were several about the campaign finance ruling.

MILLER: My campaign is complying with the spending limits, with the campaign finance board it is working these matters out, and I’m very confident that I'm going to have the opportunity over the next four days to go out and talk to New Yorkers about my record on the issues that they care about and my specific plans for moving this city in the right direction.

REPORTER: But he was pressed, facing an adverse opinion from the board and cutting his ad buy in half can’t be the way he wanted this campaign to end up.

MILLER: Can’t be the way I wanted it? The way I wanted to end up is to have the chance to go out and talk to new Yorkers about the issues that matter in their lives: about how we’re going to reduce class sizes, about how we’re going to make sure everyone that this city becomes a place where eveybody can afford housing, about how me make this city a better place

REPORTER: But despite his game manner, the Speaker’s supporters looked pained. As Council member Christine Quinn introduced him, she said “these are the final days of the campaign.” She meant, the final days of the primary campaign. The mayoral campaign ends in November. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein.