Katz, rivals unable to reserve runoff funds

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In a blow to City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), the city Campaign Finance Board ruled last week that candidates running for city office cannot pre-emptively raise funds and keep them aside in a separate account for a presumptive runoff.

The question arose earlier this month when Katz, who is running for city comptroller in 2009, when she is term limited out of her current seat, sought to get around campaign finance contribution limits that go into effect in December and will drastically reduce to $250 the amount a donor with business before the Council can give a candidate.

"It was fairly easy to turn down the request," said Campaign Finance Board spokesman Eric Friedman.

In 2007 the City Council approved limits on contributions from certain influential sectors, among them contractors and lobbyists. For Katz, chairwoman of the City Council Land Use Committee, this posed a problem because many of her donors thus far have been involved in the real estate industry and are inclined to give the maximum amount allowed by law: $4,950.

If the comptroller race — her opponents are City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) and state Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) — should become a runoff, additional fund-raising would likely be necessary.

Neither Katz nor Weprin returned calls for comment.

On Tuesday, the most recent deadline to file campaign finance disclosures, Katz led the group in funds raised for the race with $2,111,835. Weprin trailed her with $1,889,252, followed by Yassky with $1,398,145 and Brennan with $492,203.Katz's plan would have allowed her to set up a separate account now for runoff spending, to which donors could give money with the current maximum contribution applicable instead of the $250 that will be the limit after December.

The 2007 law that set the new limits addresses the contribution amount campaigns may accept from individuals or entities that have business dealings with city government.

Friedman said that this was the earliest the board has ever gotten such a request, more than a year before Election Day in 2009. The board has previously granted similar requests to permit candidates to create bank accounts to cover runoff expenses in the 2001 and 2005 elections, but both were in the same year as the November in question.

"We don't want to be setting a precedent," Friedman said. "You're essentially talking about starting a fund-raising arms race."

Much of Katz's money has come from developers, contractors and others connected with the real estate industry. The donors who have given the maximum read like a who's who list: there are well-known names including Hemmerdingers, Kalikows and Mattones, developers and management companies, real estate attorneys, merchant banks and executives from the Van Wagner advertising firm.

Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at Achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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