AG: Shine Some Light On Common Sense Principles
Court documents filed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Thursday push back against an effort from a political consultant who is seeking to quash subpoenas from the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.
The subpoena from the commission to Strategic Advantage International filed in December was aimed at shedding light on who funded the independent expenditure group Common Sense Principles.
Schneiderman’s main argument for upholding subpoena is this: Understanding how Common Sense Principles was able to allude sunlight will provide the Moreland Commission a key understanding of how dark money in state politics works and, what if any, changes to existing campaign spending regulations can be made.
The organization, designated a 501(c)4 non-profit, spent millions in the 2012 political campaign blasting three Democratic candidates for Senate: Sens. Ted O’Brien, George Latimer and Joe Addabbo.
When it came time for the group to disclose who funded its operations, Common Sense Principles filed paperwork showing its sole contribution came from an apparent shell company, shielding off any individual contributors.
The commission at the end of 2013 sent a subpoena to Strategic Advantage, which had developed the website for Common Sense Principles.
But the company is fighting the subpoena, calling the effort unduly burdensome and a violation of its First Amendment rights.
But Schneiderman’s office in the court filing contends that even when the scope of what’s being sought by the Moreland Commission was scaled back, the company continued to be uncooperative.
“In particular, the Commission emphasized its view that compliance with the subpoena would have to include documents demonstrating petitioners’ “interactions with Common Sense Principles and related persons and entities,” but not “communications regarding political strategy pertaining to specific candidates or particular political messages.”
Most importantly, Schneiderman’s office argues in the filing that the commission has the purview to find out who funded Common Sense in order to make informed recommendations to the state Legislature for potential ethics legislation.
“Obtaining this information would assist the Commission in determining not only whether existing election and lobbying laws had been followed, and the efficacy of those laws, but also, crucially, whether further disclosures should be mandated to ensure transparency in the funding and operation of dark money groups,” according to the brief.
There is also the “appearance” of corruption with so-called “dark money” groups like Common Sense Principles.
“Dark money also fosters the appearance that large contributors are hiding their identities because they are engaged in illicit or improper behavior. The disclosures sought by the Commission’s subpoenas will help the Commission determine both whether this appearance reflects reality, and whether additional disclosures (or other reforms) can dispel the appearance of corruption,” the brief says.
The filing comes as the Senate and Assembly continue to challenge the authority of the Moreland Commission to seek more information on lawmakers’ outside income.
Attorneys for the Legislature are challenging the subpoenas in the state court, but the timetable has been moved into March.
State lawmakers argue the commission is a product of the executive branch and cannot investigate the Legislature. The commission, however, points to Schneiderman granting its members the power of deputy attorneys general as a way around the separation of powers argument.
At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has inserted a package of ethics overhaul measures into his state budget proposal, including tighter restrictions on campaign finances and stronger anti-bribery laws as well as a system of publicly financed campaigns.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Nick Reisman on February 7, 2014 at 7:00 am, and is filed under Attorney General. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|