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The Contents Of A Lobbyist’s Statement Of Registration

Testimony Of Donna Lieberman And Irum Taqi On Behalf Of The New York Civil Liberties Union Before The New York City Council Committee On Governmental Operations Regarding Int. 502-b, In Relation To The Contents Of A Lobbyist’s Statement Of Registration

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, has approximately 48,000 members across the state. The NYCLU is devoted to the protection and enhancement of those fundamental rights and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York.

We present testimony today regarding Int. 502-B, a legislative proposal that would amend sections of the Administrative Code of the City of New York regulating the contents of annual statements of registration which lobbyists are required to file with the Office of the City Clerk, pursuant to §3-213. Int. 502-B would require lobbyist organizations to disclose the home and business addresses of every employee who engages in lobbying or who is employed in a “division” that is engaged in lobbying, as well as the names and home and business addresses of lobbyists’ spouses or domestic partners.

Current law does not require the identification of home addresses of lobbyists or their spouses or domestic partners. This is a seemingly modest change in the law, but it involves a serious intrusion into the privacy interests of lobbyists and their family members.

Although imposed upon all lobbyists regardless of whether they make campaign contributions, the legislation has been justified as a vehicle to enforce the City’s campaign finance laws. Last year the City Council adopted a measure that excludes campaign contributions by lobbyists and their family members from public matching funds. Int. 502-B facilitates the enforcement of the anti-matching and anti-bundling provisions of last year’s law by allowing the Campaign Finance Board to match names and home addresses of lobbyists and their family members.

While the NYCLU supports the goal of preventing fraud in the campaign finance program, the privacy intrusions compelled by Int. 502-B raise serious constitutional and practical concerns.

It is well-established that lobbying and the providing of campaign contributions, while involving different forms of advocacy, constitute “core political speech” entitled to substantial protection under the First Amendment. This conclusion rests upon the observation of the Supreme Court that “compelled disclosure, in itself, can seriously infringe on the privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court has held that compelled disclosure requirements must be “narrowly tailored” and “substantially related” to a legitimate government interest. It is our view that Int. 502-B fails to meet this constitutional standard and is, in fact, vastly over-inclusive because of its application to all lobbyists whether or not the lobbyist ever offers a campaign contribution to a candidate. The NYCLU detailed these concerns in a February 26, 2007 letter to Council Speaker Quinn and Council Member Felder, which we have on file and would be happy to share with the Committee.

While we have constitutional concerns with Int. 502-B, the focus of our testimony today rests on another concern – the real possibility that the bill’s disclosure requirements could leave individuals who work for or are associated with controversial organizations such as the NYCLU vulnerable to harassment, threats, or even physical violence.

The privacy concerns raised by the compelled public disclosure of personal family information are neither abstract nor theoretical. Employees of the NYCLU have, on a number of occasions, been subjected to harassment and threats by virtue of their association with the organization and positions that the organization has advanced. Such harassment has generally been conveyed by phone calls received at the NYCLU offices. But there have been times when staff members were harassed by phone calls received at home. And, in these circumstances, the harassment has been more disturbing because it was experienced not only by the staff members, but by their children and family members. Employees of other organizations experience similar recriminations.

For example, NYCLU attorneys who defended the Ku Klux Klan’s right to engage in lawful political protest (a case that stood for the NYCLU’s belief that all citizens and groups retain the right to free speech regardless of the offensiveness of their message) received death threats by telephone at their homes, and were picketed outside of their homes by protesters. Just this week, the director of our Syracuse office was compelled to get police protection following death threats and vandalism as a result of her advocacy in opposition to legislation that would violate free speech rights of residents of the town of Nichols, New York by requiring homeowners to obtain a permit prior to placing any political sign on their property.

It is not only employees of the NYCLU that would face this type of retaliation for engaging in legislative advocacy. Individuals engaged in reproductive rights or domestic violence work, or those advocating on behalf of lesbian and gay people are likely to be subject to recrimination for the advocacy they undertake. This legislation would make it possible to identify the home addresses of those who engage in this work, as well as the identity and home addresses of their family members.

Int. 502-B needlessly ignores these serious privacy concerns by unnecessarily compelling lobbyists to disclose publicly their home addresses and the identity and home addresses of their family members. We understand that it is the Council’s intent to keep this information confidential. However, there is simply no way to ensure that private information collected by the government in a database is never leaked or hacked or otherwise disclosed in some fashion. What is more, the legislation does not include penalties in the event of the release of private information.

If the Council plans to proceed with this legislation, we urge the Committee to include an exemption from the disclosure requirements for individuals who work for organizations that advocate on controversial issues. The NYCLU proposes an amendment to the bill that would exempt lobbyists or employees of lobbyist organizations from disclosing their home addresses and the identities and home addresses of their spouses and domestic partners if the public disclosure of that information will, with reasonable probability, subject them to threats, harassment or recriminations. Under the proposal, the exemption would be waived if the lobbyist or the lobbyist’s spouse or domestic partner makes a campaign contribution.

This exemption is based on Supreme Court case law which provides that disclosure laws designed to enforce campaign finance restrictions must provide an exemption for individuals who associate with controversial organizations and who, consequently, could potentially be exposed to recriminations or threats or harassment by virtue of being required to expose their identities.

The NYCLU’s concerns could be addressed by inserting the paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 following paragraph 1 in ‘2 of the bill.

(2) The reporting requirements prescribed in paragraph (1) of this subdivision that a lobbyist or lobbyist organization provide his or her home address or, if the lobbyist is an organization, the home address of any officer or employee who is employed in the organization’s division that engages in lobbying activities, and the names and home and business addresses of spouses and domestic partners of such lobbyists, lobbyist organizations and officers and employees of such organizations shall not apply to lobbyists or lobbyist organizations who affirm that the unintentional or intentional public disclosure of their home addresses or the names and home and business addresses of their spouses or domestic partners will, with reasonable probability, subject them to threats, harassment or recriminations.

The City Clerk may request from a lobbyist or lobbyist organization that invokes the exception from reporting lobbying information pursuant to paragraph (2) herein information, including a sworn affidavit, that demonstrates a reasonable probability that the unintentional or intentional disclosure of such lobbying information will subject the lobbyist or lobbyist organization, or the spouses and domestic partners of such lobbyists, officers and employees to threats, harassment or recriminations.

(4) Whenever a campaign contribution, as defined in subdivision eight of section 3-702 of the New York City campaign finance act, is made by a lobbyist or a lobbyist organization that has asserted an exemption to providing lobbying information pursuant to subparagraphs (1) and (2) of this subdivision in the calendar year for which a statement of registration is filed, or whenever a campaign contribution is made by the spouse or domestic partner of a lobbyist or lobbyist organization that has invoked this exemption, the lobbyist or lobbyist organization shall promptly file an amended statement of registration. This amended statement of registration shall contain the home address of the lobbyist who has made such a campaign contribution and the home address of an employee or officer employed in the lobbying division of the lobbyist organization and who has made such a campaign contribution. The amended statement of registration, as provided in this paragraph, shall also include the name and the home and business addresses of the spouse or domestic partner of such lobbyists who have made campaign contributions.

We urge the Council to adopt this amendment to prevent the harmful consequences that are likely to occur should the private information of those associated with controversial organizations be disclosed.
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