NYS Agencies’ Accountability for Advertising Practices

Father carrying his children, one on each arm.
From Our Time Press’ June 1, 2023 issue: Bed-Stuy born-and-raised Kobie, a proud father of three, is seen with two of his three children, Peace, 6, and Love Grace, 3, at the Cumbe circle of dancers and drummers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s array of 2023 DanceAfrica events. (Photo by Bernice Elizabeth Green)

CCM identified no additional laws establishing specific guidelines for how NYS agencies should conduct their advertising, other than a 2007 law passed to ensure that there are no ”advertisements by elected government officials and candidates made with public funds.”23

We attempted to uncover the rules and practices by which state agencies and authorities make decisions about media placement of advertising to inform the public of vital programs and services such as health care, employment, housing, and transportation. Various New York State Comptrollers over the past 20 years have audited state agency advertising practices with insightful, although discouraging, results. In a 2002 report State Comptroller H. Carl McCall reported that state agencies and authorities spent $140 million annually on advertising. Comptroller McCall audited four state agencies and five authorities’ advertising expenditures for fifteen months (April 1, 2000, through June 30, 2001).

We could not glean any insight into media buys with community media outlets from this report, but other assertions proved helpful to our analysis. The state comptroller report stated that at the time, “New York State has no laws or regulations to establish guidelines for the types of advertising State agencies and public authorities should conduct, to promote accountability for advertising expenditures or to ensure the propriety of taxpayer-funded advertising programs by restricting references to and appearances of public officials. Instead, each entity determines how and when its advertising should be conducted.” The audit found that two-thirds of the $55.7 million spent over 15 months by the agencies audited had funded ads featuring public officials and public funds paid for most of those ads. The report concluded that “publicly funded advertising should advance the public interest and avoid the appearance of advancing partisan interests,” including during election season. Since the 2002 Comptroller’s report, NYS Public Officers Law §73-b was passed in 2007 and prohibits ”advertisements by elected government officials and candidates made with public funds.24 However, we identified no additional laws establishing guidelines for how agencies should conduct their advertising.

Only one of the agencies audited in the 2002 report, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), had “developed specific marketing plans for its advertising efforts, including steps to evaluate program performance.” Furthermore, the Department of Health had no official marketing plan or method for evaluating the success of their ad campaigns other than “officials believe the advertising campaigns to be successful, based on the record number of residents enrolling in State-run health care programs.”

Comptroller DiNapoli’s 2015 audit of Empire State Development (ESD) found the agency spent $211 million on an advertising contract to promote economic development and tourism in New York State with no tangible results. State budget watchdog Citizens’ Budget Commission of New York reported that “despite an extensive marketing campaign, the program ESD’s STARTUP NY had unimpressive results, with 76 jobs created in 2014 and 332 in 2015. The largest expense has been the marketing campaign, estimated at $53 million, or about $130K per job created.” Comptroller DiNapoli found that from 2012 through 2016, Empire State Development failed to comply with statutory statewide marketing plan reporting requirements specifically for economic development. DiNapoli’s 2019 audit of ESD found that “with few exceptions,…ESD does not evaluate its economic assistance programs to ensure they are meeting their intended goals and furthering ESD’s mission,” as required by law. 

A Department of Health Request for Proposals for media-buying and planning services, issued in June 2022 stated the diversity requirements in media placement for the contract: “Contractor will be responsible for the placement and purchase of all media. In negotiating media purchases, the Contractor will notify the DOH of any savings that could be achieved through long-term commitments or other specialized programs. Contractor must: Provide media buying strategies that reach minority, multi-lingual, and special needs populations, as requested by DOH.” However, the agencies do not outline a way to hold contractors accountable for such strategies.



23 There is one other law mentioned in this report, but it is specific to comprehensive economic development reporting, Economic Development Law (COM) CHAPTER 15, ARTICLE 4.

24 “no elected government official or candidate for elected local, state or federal office shall knowingly appear in any advertisement or promotion, including public or community service announcements, published or broadcast through any print or electronic media (including television, radio and internet) by any private or commercial entity or any other entity that publishes such advertisement for a fee, if the advertisement or promotion is paid for or produced in whole or in part with funds of the state, a political subdivision thereof or a public authority.” SECTION 73-B Advertisements by elected government officials and candidates made with public funds; prohibited Public Officers (PBO) CHAPTER 47, ARTICLE 4; Assembly Passes Sweeping Ethics Reform Legislation, February 14, 2007, New York State Assembly press release.