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JCOPE working on guidelines for lobbying groups

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Albany/HV: JCOPE working on guidelines for lobbying groups
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The state’s ethics committee is working on guidelines for when lobbying groups will have to disclose information about who donates money to them. JCOPE heard testimony on Thursday from several good-government groups who will all be impacted by the decision. But the bigger question may be how it will affect the Committee to Save New York, a coalition that’s spent heavily in support of Governor Cuomo’s agenda. Nick Reisman explains.

NEW YORK STATE -- Good-government groups are split over how much information organizations influencing public opinion should go when it comes to revealing who funds their costly campaigns. There's new scrutiny over disclosure rules currently under consideration by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, after a group closely aligned with Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted $2.4 million in donations from gambling groups.

“We're seeing a morphing, a blurring of the line between campaign activities and lobbying activities that are directed to the public,” said Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner.

The Committee to Save New York is just one of many groups pushing their agendas with slick advertising campaigns. The committee spends the most, more than $12 million last year. Depending on what the ethics board decides, we may never find out who funded the group's activities over the last 18 months.

“I think the statute can be read to cover the first six months of the year which are the first reports which would be due after June 1 or what we think makes the most sense is in fairness have the rules in place and have the reporting kick in,” NYPIRG Legislative Director Russ Haven.

Citizens Union argues that not all donors should be disclosed.

“We support contributions being made to lobbying organizations being disclosed, but we think there should be an option for donors who are giving monies to lobbying organizations to indicate that they want the funds to not be used for lobbying so they can remain anonymous,” said Alex Camarda, Citizens Union Director of Public Policy and Advocacy.

Good government reform groups are registered lobbyists just like the Committee to Save New York, a coalition of businesses backing Cuomo's fiscal agenda. And most of the good government advocates, just like the committee, do not disclose who funds their activities.

“Folks who contribute to NYPIRG do so with expectation of privacy. But whatever the commission comes out with, we'll disclose,” Russ said.

But Common Cause does reveal its donors in an annual report posted on its website. Executive Director Susan Lerner says the best policy is proactive disclosure.

“You end the story by just coming forward and revealing what everybody's chasing after and not hiding,” Lerner said.

The only commissioner at the hearing to ask any questions was the controversial choice of Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, Brooklyn lawyer Ravi Batra. In a bizarre end to the meeting, Batra was taken away in an ambulance after feeling faint. A JCOPE spokesman later said Batra appeared to be fine.

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