Fireside Chats with Governor Cuomo

Slow news week in campaign finance land so let’s revisit that bastion of campaign finance reform — and haven for political corruption — New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fireside chatting about his desire to be a “progressive leader” when it comes to campaign finance reform. Building off New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s desire to uncloak all those dark money monsters slipping bills to politicians via third-party groups to ensure their special interests are met, Cuomo says he’s really just interested in simplification — and extending the witch-hunt to national groups.

Cuomo says as part of campaign finance reform bill that he intends to introduce soon he’ll require that the not-for-profits, known to critics as “dark money groups,” disclose campaign contributions to politicians. Cuomo says his bill goes further than a plan by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, because the AG can only regulate the not-for-profit organizations registered in New York State.

“You have all these national not-for-profits that aren’t registered in New York, but we were just watching their advertising during the Presidential campaign,” Cuomo said. “I want them covered also.”

With New York leading the charge, there should be much hypocrisy for us to point out in the coming year. With that in mind, it’s clearly time to remind people of what all this hyperventilating about disclosure of these (enemy?) lists of donors could mean. Here’s our own Brad Smith on the subject in the wake of the swatting phenomenon over the summer:

One of the problems with compulsory disclosure of political donations is that it opens people up to harassment. For this reason, many Americans prefer to give to trade associations or other organizations as an intermediary. The public will know that the Chamber of Commerce or the NAACP has spent money on a  political ad, but it won’t know the exact names of donors to that organization…

For many on the anti-free speech side of the campaign finance debates, knowing the name of the group or organization paying for the ad is not enough. They demand to know who gave money to the group whose name is disclosed on the ad. In approving limited, compelled disclosure of campaign contributions and spending, the Supreme Court has cited three government interests: disclosure can help the government enforce other restrictions in the law by detecting violations; it can help voters observe patterns of shirking by legislators, who act on behalf of donors rather than constituents; and it can provide voters with information to evaluate the message.

In the current push for unprecedented disclosure, however, none of these three rationales is really in play. Rather, the anti-speech group has made clear that it’s goal in gaining more information is to enable boycotts and harassment of speakers.

Brad was recently on a panel where he asked some of the state legislative staff in attendance — one who had clearly swallowed the disclosure kool-aid — if it was so difficult to imagine that people would be threatened or intimidated or even physically harmed if it came out that they supported one candidate or super PAC over another. It’s getting easier to believe.


The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.