For Immediate Release
November 15, 2007
Media Contact:
Sara Stuart
212.227.0342 ext. 16

Executive Director of Citizens Union
on Tightening the Practice of Using City Funds for Ads is Further Evidence of Reform

Citizens Union strongly commends City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Rules Reform Working Group chaired by Dan Garodnick and David Yassky, and all the other members of the Council, for the swift and appropriate action they are taking today to ban the practice of using city funds for advertisements featuring City Council members that are nothing more than self promotional.

We fully support the new policy governing the use of city funds for advertisements. Amending the Council’s rules to prohibit outright event journal ads and allow the use of taxpayer funds to advertise in newspapers only when an important public service message is being conveyed is a victory for New York taxpayers.

It is challenging sometimes for elected officials to back away from a benefit of serving in office, but today Citizens Union thanks the City Council and its Speaker for heeding our call and acting in the public interest. This practice had been one without any oversight and led current office holders to exercise an unfair advantage as they run for re-election to their current office or election to another one. It seemed to us that the ads were less about providing constituent service and more about promoting the council member's own name and image, particularly since expenditures were at similar levels in both non-election and election years.

This step is one in a series of steps taken by the Council over the past few years under the leadership of Speaker Quinn and her colleagues to reform the Council’s operations, making it more open, accountable and responsive to New Yorkers.

Citizens Union last month released a study showing that the members of the City Council had spent close to $1 million in tax dollars over the past five and a half years on advertising in local community newspapers and event journals, of which $343,000 was spent during the election years of 2003 and 2005 in possible violation of the city charter when almost all were running for re-election or election to another office.

Most of the advertising did not provide a public service or impart information about public meetings and hearings, but rather simply extended holiday greetings or salutatory congratulations. The study found that three distinct spending peaks occurred each year in June, September, and December, coinciding with special events, primary elections, and holidays.

While the annual average amount spent on advertising by council members was $3,685, the top ten spenders on the City Council accounted for fifty-five percent, or $405,360, of all advertising dollars spent by the Council during the fiscal years of 2003 to 2006.

The City Charter prohibits elected officials who are candidates for city office from participating in television, radio or printed advertisements paid for with government funds from January 1 of the election year through the date of the last election, and recent changes to state law banned the use of any elected official’s picture, likeness, or voice in ads. However, Citizens Union discovered that spending amounts and patterns were the same for both election and non-election years.

When Citizens Union last month issued its report, it called upon the City Council to ban ads which are solely congratulatory or self-promotional in nature and enforce the ban on such ads during election years. For the addendum of sample ads, click for part one-sample public service ads, part two-sample community event ads , and part three-sample local paper ads.

Citizens Union of the City of New York, a non-partisan force for good government for more than 100 years, works to inform and engage New Yorkers, to ensure local and state government values its citizens, addresses critical issues, and operates in a fair, open, and fiscally sound manner.

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Peter J. W. Sherwin, Chair • Dick Dadey, Executive Director •