August 29, 2011
By: Laurence D. Laufer
Independent Expenditures: Transparency, Duplication and Conflict?
The newly-enacted Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 directs the NY State Board of Elections to issue regulations by January 1, 2012 setting forth and implementing the requirements under existing law for disclosure of independent expenditures (IE) for advertisements and other “advocacy that expressly identifies a political candidate or ballot proposal.” These regulations shall require “disclosure to the fullest extent of the law.” Curiously, the Act references requirements under existing law “for individuals, organizations, corporations, political committees, or any other entities to disclose independent expenditures.” The existing requirements, however, apply only when the person or entity making the expenditure is a political committee. Existing law defines a political committee as including “any corporation aiding or promoting and any committee, political club or combination or one or more persons operating or co-operating … to aid or to promote the success or defeat … of any ballot proposal; or to take part in the election or defeat of a candidate ….” It stands to reason, therefore, that the coming regulations will clarify when an individual or a corporation making an IE must register and file disclosure reports as a political committee. Come to think of it, hasn’t the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) been working on regulations for a similar objective? Indeed, the State and City regulations will overlap since both are applicable to IEs for candidates and ballot proposals in New York City. This creates some potential for problems. For example, the NYC Charter authorization for the CFB rulemaking does not limit the required disclosure to persons and entities that are subject to regulation as political committees. Further, will there be differences in the State and City rules’ definitions of “independent expenditure”, such that the two disclosure regimes will not apply to precisely the same categories of spending? Also, will the State parameters for contribution disclosure to political committees trump the narrower range of contribution disclosure by persons and entities subject to the CFB disclosure rules? New York City lobbyists and candidates for NYC offices are familiar with similarly duplicative, but not identical, disclosure requirements. As has generally been achieved for City candidates (but not City lobbyists, see the preliminary report of the NYC Lobbying Commission, at pp. 58 - 59), will the State and City work together to design and provide software that enables filers to meet their obligations under both IE disclosure regimes?