JCOPE Endorses Disclosure of Advocacy Groups' Backers

The Associated Press

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New York's ethics board declined Tuesday to shield the financial reports of four advocacy groups that say public disclosure of their financial backers is likely to result in threats or even harm.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics rejected the requests of Family Planning Advocates and New York Women's Equality Coalition, which back abortion rights. The panel also rejected requests from New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which opposes abortion and gay marriage, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for free speech and other individual rights.

The commission requires reports from state lobbyists, though it can withhold records of contributors to lobbying groups that show their donors would likely face danger, threats and harassment if disclosed.

Separately, the commission scaled back the disclosure exemption granted last June to NARAL Pro-Choice NY, another abortion rights advocate. That's now scheduled to expire July 15 or almost 18 months earlier than previously approved.

The commission is scheduled to consider formal rejection notices that will be sent to the groups when it meets again next month. After they receive the notices, they can appeal the decision.

The NYCLU said it will fight it and consider every option, including going to court.

"The Supreme Court has long recognized that donors who support organizations that engage in advocacy on controversial issues may become targets of harassment, and worse, and therefore the court has held that the government may not compel the publication of personal information regarding those individuals," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

She added that the commission itself meets in private, is "selectively secret" and has unclear and constantly changing standards.

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