By Jon Campbell
ALBANY -- Lobbying groups would be required to disclose their significant donors since July 1 under a set of regulations formally proposed by the state ethics board Tuesday.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics interpreted the state's 2011 ethics law to require donor disclosure from lobbyists starting with this month, rather than retroactively. The law applies to the disclosure of any donors of more than $5,000.
A draft set of regulations was sent to members of the commission last night and passed at its meeting Tuesday. The rules will have to be published in the official state register and put to a public comment period before taking effect.
"What we need to do here is maximize disclosure and implement the statute," JCOPE Executive Director Ellen Biben said at the commission's Tuesday meeting.
Under the regulations, lobbying groups and clients meeting certain thresholds would report to the state by January 15, disclosing their donors from July through December of this year. Reports will be required every six months.
The issue has gained considerable attention largely because of the Committee to Save New York, a coalition supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fiscal policies that has blanketed the airwaves and outspent all other lobbying entities the past two years. The group has declined to voluntarily disclose its donors, though several have been revealed in news reports, including casino gambling entities and business groups.
The state Legislature and Cuomo approved a new ethics law last year, requiring increased financial disclosure from lobbyists, their clients and lawmakers. The law, which was signed in August, created JCOPE and required it to come up with regulations and guidelines to implement the disclosure requirements.
The ethics board had been in the process of crafting regulations for several months.
Biben said a "fair and reasonable" reading of the law does not allow the board to require disclosure of donors active earlier than July. The disclosure provision of the law took effect on June 1, and the next six-month reporting period begins on July 1.
Different groups -- and at least one member of JCOPE -- have interpreted the ethics law several different ways. Several good-government advocates testified in a public hearing earlier this year, with most arguing that the board can only require prospective disclosure. Others argued that disclosure could go back to January 2012 or August 2011.
JCOPE member Ravi Batra, who was appointed by Senate Democrats, criticized the regulations at the meeting. Specifically, Batra took issue with the fact that the relevant provisions of the ethics law took effect on June 1, but donor disclosure would only be required after July 1.
The regulations also take steps to clarify which donors would have to be disclosed. For example, the $5,000 limit would apply to a cumulative total of all donors living in the same household.
Also, certain donors would be able to obtain a waiver if disclosure "will cause harm, threats, harassment or reprisals" to the person.