A New York lobbying board member has claimed the panel appears to have taken illegal action to shield donors to wealthy lobbying groups including one that promotes Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Board member Ravi Batra said the Joint Commission on Public Ethics was wrong this week when it set July 1 to start identifying donors to lobbying groups. He said the panel acted against the greater disclosure sought by Cuomo who proposed the law and the Legislature which passed it in August 2011.
Batra told The Associated Press that lobbying law notes an effective date of June 1, which appears to be stated in the 2011 lobbying law. He said that would trigger disclosure of donations over the previous 12 months by lobbying groups like the Committee to Save New York, which promotes Cuomo, instead of requiring only donors after July 1 to be identified. The committee has already amassed $17 million from business and gambling interests making it the most well-funded lobbying group in New York after just 18 months.
JCOPE spokesman John Milgrim says the board’s action conforms to law and the Legislature’s intent, and said the legal analysis by Batra, a lawyer, is wrong. He said the board followed its own analysis.
“This analysis is reasonable, fair, and consistent with the language of the statute, the legislative intent and basic principles of statutory interpretation,” Milgrim said.
Batra says a court should intervene to decide and he threatens to resign if the board doesn’t follow the law and what he said is Cuomo’s intent to bring integrity back to government through greater disclosure of public information.
In a lengthy written response to questions by the AP, Batra who was the sole vote against the measure Tuesday said he still needs to “cure the perceived illegality and to honor the core objective of an honest government through unprecedented disclosure.”
The said the board has no authority to counter the “crowning achievement” of Cuomo passed by the Legislature in August 2011.
“The enabling legislation was all about more disclosure, not less, or worse, none at all,” Batra said. “JCOPE acted, with authority unknown to the law, to cloak a period of time.”
“The legal mandate of greater disclosure, to earn greater public confidence in government is not met by thwarting disclosure, or worse, by preventing it,” he said.
Milgrim dismissed the argument of the draft law adopted Tuesday, which is expected to become final in October after public hearings. The panel had the responsibility of setting specific disclosure dates.
On Tuesday, the board chose July 1 as a fair date for lobbying groups to start reporting their donors. That includes influential groups that have been funded by teachers unions and public employee unions that have used the lobbying groups to pay for massive TV ad campaigns in the past that have sought to increase spending and have severely reduced the popularity of past governors.
The Committee to Save New York was created days after Cuomo’s win in November 2010 to counter those established lobbying groups. It has spent an unprecedented $10 million on campaign-like TV ads that promote Cuomo’s policies and achievements helping to bolster Cuomo’s high poll ratings without costing his own political campaign, where donors must be identified.
Batra has often been a lone voice of dissent on the board which restricts board members’ comment by threat of a misdemeanor.
“I am uncertain that my efforts at JCOPE to support Gov. Cuomo’s prized law is at all welcome,” Batra stated. “My continued service on JCOPE is conditioned upon its necessary independence and willingness to lawfully effectuate the law, otherwise … I will tender my resignation.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.