Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, Imposes 'Dark Money' Disclosure Rules

Big State Fights Back Against 'Dark Money'

WASHINGTON -- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday imposed new regulations to close major disclosure loopholes for money spent on New York state elections.

The new regulations require disclosure of donors by any group that spends money on communications that call for the victory or defeat of a candidate or a referendum, and by any group that names a candidate, referendum or political party in its communications within 45 days of a primary election and 90 days of a general election.

Spending on political campaigns from unknown donors -- dubbed "dark money" by campaign finance reformers -- increased rapidly at the state level, and nationally, after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling allowed certain nonprofits that are not required to name their donors to spend unlimited corporate and union money on elections.

"When people spend money to try to influence our elections, the public needs to know the source of that money, and how it is being spent. The regulations going into effect today will ensure that New York nonprofits are not used to subvert that basic principle," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Simply put, transparency reduces the likelihood of corruption."

Schneiderman first announced the regulatory changes in December 2012. To build support and gather feedback, he held public meetings across the state in Albany, Buffalo, Mineola and New York City. His office received more than 6,000 public comments on the rules.

The new regulations target the previously undisclosed spending by nonprofit organizations -- except for those organized under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code, which are prohibited from political activity. There are exemptions for communications sent solely to a group's membership and for the promotion of a "town hall" meeting featuring more than one candidate.

Groups spending more than $10,000 in total on New York state and local elections are required to file an itemized listing of donors and expenditures. They must identify all contributions of $1,000 or more made by a single donor, unless those contributions are made to a separate segregated fund for nonpolitical expenses, and all expenditures of $50 or more.

New York becomes one of a handful of states that have imposed new disclosure rules since the Citizens United decision. Maryland adopted new disclosure rules through the legislative process in May.

The Texas Legislature passed a disclosure bill in May that was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry (R). In Montana, a disclosure bill supported by the Republican Senate leader Jim Pederson and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock stalled during the legislative session, but supportive Republicans have announced a new effort to push the measure as a ballot initiative.

In California, an expanded disclosure bill is advancing in the state Legislature, while the Fair Political Practices Commission, led by Ann Ravel, has highlighted disclosure rules already on the books by aggressively investigating a daisy chain of nonprofit giving to a ballot initiative campaign.

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