The Committee to Save New York has spent more than $10 million dollars supporting the Democratic Governor
The state's ethics regulators made a decision Tuesday that will keep secret the vast majority of millionaire donors who funded a business lobbying group that promotes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and recently received $2 million from gambling interests.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics board decided that a state lobbying law passed a year ago requires lobbying groups to revealing those donors who have contributed since July 1. It is the first time that the groups will have to divulge their donors. In past years, they have been dominated by public employee unions pushing for greater state spending in TV ad campaigns that hurt governors' popularity by portraying them as lacking compassion.
JCOPE commissioner Ravi Batra, the lone member critical of the measure, said in the meeting that the decision "cloaked" two years of donations to the business lobbying group, the Committee to Save New York, and masked its donors. He cited an 1845 state law that requires protesters and others trying to influence public policy to do so without masks.
Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY called the board's decision "a good first attempt."
"There are some very good provisions and some very forward-looking elements," Lerner said.
But Lerner also said the Committee to Save New York should voluntary release its donors lists in the interest of greater accountability "and stop the endless chase after the list of contributors."
The Committee to Save New York was created days after Cuomo's election in November 2010. It has spent more than $10 million in an unprecedented, campaign-like TV ad blitz supporting the Democratic governor. Now, it won't have to reveal most of its contributors dating to December 2010 that funded pro-business ads that helped boost Cuomo's popularity by promoting his accomplishments.
"For decades, the source of not one dollar given to these groups was required to be disclosed," said Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto. "Thanks solely to the governor's ethics bill passed by the Legislature last year, New York state now leads the nation as it is the first and only state to require disclosure from these groups."
Other good-government groups, including the New York Public Interest Research Group and the League of Women Voters. felt a summer start was most fair for donors who might not have expected to be identified publicly.
"What we need to do here is maximize disclosure and implement the statute," said JCOPE Executive Director Ellen Biben on Tuesday. She was a longtime Cuomo aide and his inspector general before she was chosen for JCOPE by the board led by Chairwoman Janet DiFiore, the Westchester County executive appointed by Cuomo.
The law will require disclosure of all donors who contribute $5,000 or more. The first report is due Jan. 15.
The Committee to Save New York, which at first resisted registering as a lobbyist, continues to refuse to voluntarily identify its donors.
"We have always, and will always, comply with all the disclosure requirements," said committee spokesman Michael McKeon.
The New York Times recently reported the New York Gaming Association donated $2 million to the Committee to Save New York as Cuomo was pushing for more casino gambling statewide. A month later, Cuomo had made casino gambling and a convention center with expanded video slot machines a centerpiece of the State of the State speech in January.
Cuomo has confirmed he coordinates with the Committee to Save New York, whose TV advertising has enabled Cuomo to amass $19 million in his campaign account with little spending.