New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a series of measures Wednesday to restrict the role of outside groups in elections.
The new measures are aimed at clarifying what constitutes coordination between so-called independent expenditure groups and campaigns. Such groups are not supposed to coordinate their ad buys and other activities with campaigns, but many do.
The Governor also announced a plan to curb “dark money” — money spent on elections from groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors. He called on lawmakers to pass legislation applying the same contribution limits to limited liability corporations (LLCs) as traditional companies. LLCs can be used to funnel money to independent expenditure groups.
Cuomo framed these measures as a response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which he compared to prior Court decisions upholding slavery and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“With Citizens United the dam burst and big, dark money flooded the political system,” he said during a speech at Fordham Law School where he announced the measures. “Reform must start by addressing this perversion.”
The Citizens United ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as that spending was independent of — that is, not coordinated with — campaigns. As part of his announcement, Cuomo unveiled an opinion by Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, detailing what factors regulators should examine when considering whether an independent expenditure group is coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.
In his nonbinding memo, David advised regulators to consider whether a candidate formed a particular group before running for office, whether the group is staffed by individuals who used to work for the candidate, and whether a group used materials prepared by a candidate’s campaign (such as b-roll footage). The guidelines, David wrote, are necessary to “achieve the basic intent of the existing legislation,” adding that current law does not “appropriately codify a demarcation between candidates and independent spenders.”
David said that a change in the law is needed “to support the public’s interest in an open and accountable electoral process.”
The New York State Legislature’s current session ends next week, making it unlikely any new regulations on independent expenditures or dark money will be approved before then.