Follow the money. That’s the guiding principle behind a new regulation proposed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman requiring tax-exempt organizations that spend money on political advertising within six months of an election or referendum to publicly disclose the names and amounts of their donors. And it is a laudable one.
Outside groups — including corporations and political action committees financed by them and well-heeled individuals — have been spending like crazy to influence the outcome of elections and ballot measures since the 2009 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United. That’s their right, unfortunately — we’d prefer to see publicly financed elections — but the public at least deserves to know who’s behind the big donations so they can connect the dots and figure out whose pockets elected officials are in.
For example, there’s sure to be a bundle of money spent over the next few years on advertising (among other things) to influence legislators, then voters, on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize casino gambling. Knowing where that money comes from will be helpful for decision-makers who have to sift through all the propaganda. And if they know that voters will know, it should help keep them a little more honest.
While there are already some rules governing contributions to political candidates, those from tax-exempt groups have often been able to fly under the radar on things like issue advocacy, which of course can often be tied directly to political candidacies. Such groups shouldn’t be conduits that enable high-rolling lobbyists and those with vested interests to launder their contributions.
Schneiderman’s regulation, which thankfully doesn’t need lawmakers’ approval to be adopted — if it did, it probably would only pass if it were tied to a legislative pay raise — would take effect after a 90-day comment period. We’re all in favor.