Schneiderman Wants Nonprofit Groups to Disclose Their Political Spending

, The Associated Press

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ALBANY - The New York Attorney General's Office has proposed regulations to require that nonprofits annually disclose their political spending on state and local races starting next year.

The proposal, subject to hearings and public comment through March 6, would require most tax-exempt groups registered in New York, including so-called "social welfare organizations," to report the percentage of expenditures on "electioneering activities."

Read the text of the proposed rule and other documents.

Those include advertisements or communications calling for the election or defeat of a candidate, ballot question or party, or those that depict or clearly identify them within 180 days of an election.

Nonprofits that spend $10,000 or more a year that way would have to list all political expenditures. They would have to report each contribution received of $100 or more, including the contributor's name, address and employer. Most information would be posted publicly on the attorney general's website.

"More money is being spent on our elections, with less disclosure of where that money is coming from, than ever before," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Requiring nonprofits to disclose the extent and nature of their electioneering activities will protect prospective donors from misleading solicitations, and give voters more information about who is behind many of the ads they are seeing."

According to the attorney general's office, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, exempt from federal and state taxes, have become major vehicles for political activity, including funding sham issue ads attacking candidates. They are "attractive conduits" because they can raise and spend unlimited money while concealing who supplies the money, the office said.

Since at least this summer, Schneiderman's office has been investigating several nonprofits to see whether they were crossing permissible boundaries from educating the public into influencing national politics. Under state law and regulations, any organization that gets $25,000 in annual donations from New York sources is required to register with the attorney general's charities bureau.

The proposed regulations, submitted Dec. 11 for publication Dec. 26 in the State Register, note that they don't require approval from the governor's office. A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo, asked whether the administration was briefed or supports the proposed disclosures, did not immediately respond yesterday.

The regulations address spending on election or issue advocacy by nonprofits, including financial or service transfers to other groups, political committees, unions, individuals or other entities for those purposes. Communications include broadcast, periodical, billboard and Internet ads, mailings or printed materials of at least 5,000 and paid telephoning to more than 1,000 households.

Nonprofits that keep segregated bank accounts for political spending would have to disclose donors only to those accounts.

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