NEW YORK — Council Member Brad Lander will introduce new legislation today to expand New York City’s strict independent expenditure laws to include disclosure requirements for outside spending on ballot propositions. The proposed legislation would require entities making independent expenditures on behalf of ballot propositions to make the same disclosures as supporters of candidates. Any outside spending above $1,000 must be reported to the campaign finance board, and entities that spend more than $5,000 would need to disclose identifying information about major donors and communication materials will need to identify the top three donors to the entity that produced the material.
“In 2014, on the heels of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, we created the strongest disclosure law for independent expenditure spending on behalf of candidates. We’ve already seen evidence that it is working to reduce opaque spending to promote or oppose candidates. Now, we’re taking the next step to bring the same transparency to ballot propositions on the other side of the ballot,” said Council Member Brad Lander.
The general election in November 2019 was the first time that New York City has seen significant spending in support of ballot proposals and referendum. Three organizations together spent more than $1 million either in support or opposition to five proposals on the ballot. This unprecedented spending prompted Council Members and good government organizations to look to expand NYC’s campaign finance laws, already some of the strongest in the country, to ensure that spending on ballot propositions is as transparent as spending on behalf of candidates.
In 2012, NYC’s Campaign Finance Board implemented rules approved by voters in a 2010 referendum barring anonymous political advertising. In 2014, NYC passed legislation, also sponsored by Council Member Lander, that requires independent spenders to provide greater details about the sources of their funding so the public can follow the money. The current law requires organizations that make more than $5,000 in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates to disclose the names of their owner or leadership, as well as the name of any contributor who gives more than $1,000 to the organization making the disclosure. It also mandates the disclosure of the identity of any individual or entity that gives more than $25,000 to an entity that contributes more than $50,000 to an independent expenditure committee. Organizations that pay for campaign literature or election advertising must list their top three donors on all materials. The new legislation introduced today proposes to expand those same disclosure requirements to include all spending on behalf of ballot propositions.
“Greater transparency for ballot proposals is a must. The current gap in the law allowed shadow groups to spend unprecedented amounts of money on last year’s ballot measures without local disclosure requirements,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller. “I am proud to co-sponsor this common-sense legislation, which will close this loophole and ensure voters are well informed when casting their votes.”
“In the wake of the highest spending on record on ballot propositions, expanding our disclosure requirements to cover ballot propositions makes total sense. Voters are demanding more transparency and they are right to do so. This legislation makes our high standards for transparency consistent across the board,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations.
“Councilman Lander’s legislation will close a substantial loophole and bring ballot measures in line with other campaign finance transparency requirements. This a huge win for New York City voters,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.
The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) endorsed the idea of expanding the independent expenditure law to include ballot propositions in November 2019.
“The Board applauds the Council for taking steps to expand disclosure requirements for independent spending on municipal ballot proposals. New York City’s disclosure laws are the strongest in the country, and this legislation will mean that voters have full transparency when independent groups try to influence the outcome of a ballot initiative,” said Amy Loprest, Executive Director, NYC Campaign Finance Board.