Ethics panel: Some groups can keep donors secret

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ALBANY -- New York State's ethics and lobbying commission refused Tuesday to keep secret the names of financial backers of four lobbying groups that said likely threats to donors would hurt fundraising.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics decided to not grant the protection to Family Planning Advocates and the Women's Equality Coalition, which are involved in part in defending abortion rights. The commission also refused to grant the protection to the New York Civil Liberties Union or the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which opposes abortion.

The commission has far-reaching powers, and can allow selected lobbying groups to avoid public disclosure of their funding sources.

"Are we going to allow a special interest to hide its source of income?" asked Commissioner David Renzi, an appointee of the State Assembly minority leader, Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua).

Others argued the threat to abortion rights groups has long been established.

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The commission decided to let stand a June 2013 exemption for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, an abortion rights group. That decision ignited claims of favoritism by some who noted the board was appointed mostly by liberal Democrats.

The commission said Tuesday that while NARAL donors will remain secret for now, the advocacy group must reapply for the protection in July under recently revised regulations.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which sought an exemption after NARAL received its authorization, found something positive in Tuesday's decisions.

"By saying, 'us, too' I think we probably stopped approvals for some groups that would have gotten a pass," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, the group's executive director.

Each group will have an opportunity to appeal the decisions.

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