BATAVIA, NY - Governor Andrew Cuomo defended state ethics regulators who made a decision Tuesday that will keep secret the vast majority of millionaire donors who funded a business lobbying group that promotes Cuomo and recently received $2 million from gambling interests.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) decided that a state lobbying law passed a year ago and which requires lobbying groups to reveal the names of donors, should not apply to those donors who contributed before July 1st.
JCOPE is a 14 member panel, six of which are appointed by the Governor.
Of particular concern to some, who called for the law to apply retroactively to the time it was passed in 2011, was The Committee to Save New York.
Formed just a month after Cuomo's election in 2010, it raised $17 million and spent $12 million in 2011 to lobby for passage of the Governor's policies and agendas.
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 inferred the fact that such a law has been enacted and will be applied going forward, is more important than the fact that it wo''t apply to prior donations made to lobbying groups.
"We passed a law for the first time, and by the way the only such state law in the nation, that will now have these lobbying group, disclose their donors," Cuomo told WGRZ while visiting the site of a yougurt plant being constructed in Genesee County on Thursday. "Prior to this, these types of groups never had to disclose any donors. Period," the Governor said.
According to the Associated Press, 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.
Asked how he would respond to some who are calling on him to ask lobbying groups working on his behalf to voluntarily give up the names of donors who contributed prior to July 1st Cuomo said, "We tend to frown on retroactive laws because people operated under one set of laws and one set of expectations, and then you change the rules...to do that retroactively, we frown upon as a state and a society and I understand why."
One person who doesn't seem to agree, however, is JCOPE commissioner Ravi Batra, the lone member critical of the measure, who said in the meeting that the decision "cloaked" two years of donations to 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.
Now Batra is indicating he may resign from JCOPE.
In a letter to an Associated Press reporter, Batra referred to "stealthy cloaking worthy of a Klingon warship in Star Trek" and wrote: "my continued service on JCOPE is conditioned upon its necessary independence and willingness to lawfully effectuate the law, otherwise, consistent with my twin Becket and Burke moral imperatives, I will tender my resignation and create a vacancy, which can then be filled by one more worthy to join the already serving honorable commissioners."
Batra further told the AP of his belief that the panel appeared to have taken illegal action to shield donors to wealthy lobbying groups including one that promotes Gov. Cuomo, and that JCOPE was wrong this week when it set July 1 to start identifying donors to lobbying groups.
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 donor's lists in the interest of greater accountability "and stop the endless chase after the list of contributors."
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," committee spokesman Michael McKeon told the Associated Press.
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.
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WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com, Associated Press