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NY political advocacy groups consider appeal after ethics board says they must disclose donors

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ALBANY. N.Y. — Two political advocacy groups are considering a legal appeal after a New York state ethics board rejected their request to shield major donors from public disclosure.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Family Planning Advocates of New York had asked the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to allow them to withhold the names of the donors because they said identifying them could put the donors at risk of harassment. The commission rejected the request on Tuesday, saying they had not shown valid justification for the exemption.

Last year, the commission rejected similar requests from the groups relating to earlier financial disclosures. The decision was reversed on an appeal before a judicial hearing officer.

Now, both groups are considering whether to pursue another appeal.

"We are confident that this exemption request will be upheld again," NYCLU said in a statement.

Ronnie Pawelko, general counsel for Family Planning Advocates, an organization that supports abortion rights, said the organization was "reviewing our options and determining our next steps" following the ruling.

Commissioner members who voted against giving the two organizations an exemption said a clear showing that donors faced an actual risk of reprisal would be needed to justify special treatment. State law requires other political groups that spend more than $50,000 on lobbying to disclose donors so those looking to steer public policy are identified.

"The law is 'clear and convincing evidence' that disclosure of a source would cause a substantial likelihood of harm," said Commissioner David Renzi. "We need to tilt toward disclosure whenever possible."

A third organization, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, also filed a request for an exemption but the commission chose not to consider it. That's because the conservative evangelical group's lobbying expenses weren't high enough for the law requiring donor disclosure to even apply. Jason McGuire, the organization's executive director, said NYCF expects to meet the $50,000 threshold in the future and wanted to proactively seek an exemption from the law.

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