The New York City Campaign Finance Board has proposed campaign spending rules that would require organizations and individuals that spend money on campaign ads to disclose their financial supporters and expenses even where the ads are not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign. But, according to testimony to be delivered today by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the proposed rules inappropriately burden advocacy and non-profit organizations’ non-partisan speech about public policy issues.

“The right of individuals and organizations to speak out on the issues of the day lies at the core of the First Amendment,” NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said. “The proposed rules clearly over-reach. They go far beyond ‘campaign speech’ to regulate issue-oriented expression that neither endorses nor opposes any candidate.”

The proposal requires that any individual or organization that issues a statement, mentions the name of a candidate for public office and associates the candidate with any public policy issue within 90 days of an election must disclose their financial contributors. The NYCLU expressed serious concerns about two aspects of the proposal:

  • First, the proposal’s overly broad definition of “electioneering communication” extends well beyond campaign speech to cover issue-oriented expression. For example, a transportation advocacy group that publishes a legislative scorecard identifying the position of legislators on transportation issues would be required to disclose its contributors if one of the legislators is seeking re-election or seeking some other public office and the scorecard is published within 90 days of an election. Such issue-oriented speech by non-partisan advocacy groups should remain unfettered, the NYCLU asserted.
  • Second, the rule does not provide an exemption from disclosure for organizations that are controversial and whose contributors might experience retaliation or harassment were it revealed that they supported such an organization. The Supreme Court has held that controversial organizations must be exempted from the sorts of disclosure requirements proposed here.