Earlier this month, New York City Councillor Brad Lander, who represents District 39, announced his intention to introduce legislation that would expand donor disclosure requirements for entities making independent expenditures in municipal elections.
What are the existing requirements? Currently, entities making independent expenditures on behalf of candidates or ballot questions are required to file disclosure statements with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. However, expenditures made on behalf of candidates are not the same as those made on behalf of ballot questions. Entities making independent expenditures totaling $5,000 or more on behalf of a single candidate are required to disclose identifying information about their donors (complete details about specific disclosure requirements can be accessed here). The same is not true for entities making independent expenditures on behalf of ballot questions. Communication materials (e.g., print advertisements, television advertisements, etc.) that refer to candidates must identify the top three donors to the entity that produced the material. The same requirement does not apply to communication materials that reference ballot questions.
What is the proposal? In a statement given to Gotham Gazette, Lander said, “In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working. This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well. I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot.”
The “first significant expenditure” Lander alludes to in the above statement is spending on behalf of Question 1, a charter amendment establishing ranked-choice voting for select municipal elections. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC, which supported the amendment, spent a total of $986,017 on digital, television, and direct mail advertising between mid-September and Election Day. According to the New York Daily News, the committee received a total of $1,996,948 in contributions.
What comes next? As of Nov. 22, Lander had not formally introduced legislation. Should Lander introduce this legislation and win city council approval, the measure would then go to Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who would have 30 days to act on it. The city council can override a mayoral veto by a two-thirds vote.
What we’re reading
- Associated Press, “Lawsuit challenges state’s political donor disclosure laws,” Nov. 22, 2019
- New York Daily News, “Disclose the influence buyers: Time to close a loophole in campaign-finance reporting,” Nov. 8, 2019
- The NonProfit Times, “Court Decisions Regarding Donors Embolden IRS,” Oct. 28, 2019
The big picture
Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 74 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.
Number of relevant bills by current legislative status
Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)
Recent legislative actions
Below is a complete list of legislative actions taken on relevant bills in the past two weeks. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number. Know of any legislation we’re missing? Please email us so we can include it on our tracking list.
- Michigan HB5240: This bill would rescind an existing requirement that campaigns report the occupations, employers, and principal places of business of contributors who give more than $100.
- Introduced in the House and referred to the Committee on Elections and Ethics Nov. 13.
- Pennsylvania SB11: This bill would define an independent expenditure as an expenditure “expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for nomination or election or promoting the success or defeat of a clearly identified ballot question.” It would require anyone making independent expenditures in excess of $100 per calendar year to abide by the same campaign finance reporting requirements as candidates and political committees. It would also require that communications by independent expenditure entities bear the names of the entities’ top five contributors.
- Introduced in the Senate and referred to the Committee on State Government Nov. 20.