The New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter this week to Governor Cuomo raising serious concerns about a bill that could chill constitutionally protected speech and discourage people from contributing to nonprofit organizations that fight for causes they care about. The governor could sign this bill into law within a matter of days.
“While the intention of the bill is to bring transparency to ‘dark money’ in politics, it is overbroad -- it would inhibit public interest activity that has nothing to do with electoral campaigns,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry. “The clear if unintended consequences of this bill will be to unconstitutionally burden nonprofits as well as intimidate New Yorkers from supporting controversial causes like LGBT rights, abortion and climate change.”
The bill includes some positive measures designed to stamp out coordination between political campaigns and supposedly independent groups such as Super PACs. But it establishes a sweeping and complex regulatory scheme for organizations that conduct a wide range of public advocacy work – even work that doesn’t include lobbying -- and also implicates nonprofits that work with or provide services to those organizations. One requirement, for example, is that nonprofit groups that spend more than $10,000 on any public policy communications must report the name and address of donors who give over $1,000.
The NYCLU argues that this bill poses such a substantial burden on public interest organizations that it threatens their protected First Amendment activity and stifles public debate. Moreover, the bill fails to protect New Yorkers who contribute to controversial causes, including nonpartisan groups like the NYCLU and Planned Parenthood, environmental advocacy groups and religious advocacy groups. Individuals who support these nonprofits could be subject to harassment or retaliation if their personal information is made public.