Spin Cycle

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ALBANY -- New York State's ethics and lobbying commission in a surprise move Tuesday refused to keep secret the names of financial backers of four lobbying groups which claimed likely threats to donors would hurt fundraising.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics failed to grant the protection to Family Planning Advocates and the Women's Equality Coalition which are involved in defending abortion rights. The commission also refused to grant the protection to the New York Civil Liberties Union and the conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which opposes abortion.

The power of the commission is extraordinary because it would allow selected lobbying groups to receive funding from any source without the public knowing who is paying to influence legislation and public spending.

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The commission’s first exemption, however, continues. In June  2013 the board provided the exemption to NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the abortion rights group. That decision ignited claims of favoritism by a board appointed mostly by liberal Democrats.

On Tuesday, the commission said it will continue to keep secret the donors to NARAL, for now. The commission decided Tuesday that NARAL  must reapply for the protection in July under recently revised regulations.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed its own exemption under the new regulations after NARAL received its authorization.

“It is simply wrong to use one set of rules for one applicant and a different set of rules for all others," said the Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. But the group also saw a victory in Tuesday’s action.

“By putting our hat in the ring and saying, ‘us, too’ I think we probably stopped approvals for some groups that would have gotten a pass,” McGuire said in an interview.

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Commission chairman Daniel Horwitz said the commission’s staff has worked with NARAL as the commission revised its rules after public criticism. He said the aim is to provide more transparency about lobbying to the public.

 Each group will have an opportunity to appeal the decisions. Until then, their donor lists remain secret.