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Politics and Government

New disclosure rules won't include past donors

A New York state ethics board has ruled that lobby groups, including one closely allied with Governor Andrew Cuomo, will not have to retroactively disclose their donors. The proposed new regulations will require that in the future, contributions of over $5000 for the Committee to Save New York and other groups will have to be made public.
The new Joint Commission on Public Ethics rules say donations of more than $5000 made after July 1 of this year will have to be disclosed in reports due to the commission starting next year.  
For the first time, the rules would effect not-for-profit 501c4 groups, and include the Committee to Save New York, a lobby group which is closely allied with Cuomo’s agenda. Critics say the not-for-profit entities have been increasingly used as a loophole to keep secret the names of donors who help politicians.

The Committee to Save New York has raised and spent millions on television advertising to promote the governor’s issues, including the state’s property tax cap and the governor’s budget proposals.

“Together, we’re putting the governor’s plan to create jobs and cap taxes to work, for the benefit of all New Yorkers,” a narrator intones in one of the ads.

Questions have been raised about the influence of the Committee to Save New York donors on the governor. The New York Times revealed that the committee received millions from the gambling industry in late December 2011. Just a few weeks later, Cuomo announced that a convention center and gambling complex would be the centerpiece of his State of the State message. The governor has since dropped the plan and denied that the money in any way influenced his actions.

Under the proposed new ethics rules, lobbying groups like the Committee to Save New York would not have to disclose the gambling corporation donors, or reveal any other past contributions.  

Cuomo, in a recent interview with public radio, said he does not think that the lobby groups should have to disclose donors retroactively.

“The legislature didn’t pass a retroactive law,” said Cuomo, who said that he believes that would be unfair, because it would be changing the rules in the middle.

“I think retroactivity can be precarious,” Cuomo said earlier this month.

The governor said the rules going forward would be significant, because New York will be the first to require that the not-for-profit 501c4 groups disclose any of their donors at all.

“We are the only state in the nation that will require this disclosure,” Cuomo said. “So that is a real feather in our cap.”

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause of New York, testified at a recent ethics panel hearing in favor of retroactive disclosure of lobby group donors. Lerner says nevertheless, she’s satisfied with the new requirements to disclose donors going forward.

“They’ve done a very credible job,” Lerner said.

Lerner says the new rules are “forward thinking,” because they also attempt to limit a loophole known as bundling. The $5000 reporting threshold would be reached if all the members of a household combined give more than $5000, or if a company and its subsidiaries donate a total of more than $5000.

Common Cause is also a not-for-profit group that will be covered under the new rules. The group currently makes available all of its donors on its web site.  

The rules will have to be published in the official state register and put to a public comment period before taking effect. The first time that the public will view the names of the donors will be January 15th, 2013.