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New York City Council Begins to Tackle Nonprofits Created by Elected Officials

The New York City Council passed a first-of-its-kind law to address concerns about nonprofits created by elected officials to promote their political agendas.

Just as single-candid­ate super PACs have become a must-have access­ory for polit­ical campaigns, nonprofits created to promote an elec­ted offi­cial’s agenda are gain­ing in popular­ity on both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps most prom­in­ent are the organ­iz­a­tions linked with Pres­id­ent Obama, and this month advisers to Pres­id­ent-elect Trump reportedly discussed creat­ing such a group of their own. Numer­ous governors and local offi­cials have also adop­ted the strategy. The advant­ages: unlim­ited finan­cial support from donors who are not required to be disclosed to the public, and the abil­ity to promote office­hold­ers’ agen­das — and the office­hold­ers them­selves — even outside of campaign season. 

Allow­ing unlim­ited, dark dona­tions to office­hold­ers with power over policy and the public coffers poses a seri­ous risk of corrup­tion, conflicts of interest, and policy decisions that bene­fit big donors, not the public.  Recog­niz­ing this, the New York City Coun­cil yester­day passed a first-of-its-kind law to address some of these concerns.

If signed by the Mayor, New York City’s law would both limit the most troub­ling contri­bu­tions and shed light on dark dona­tions. The proposal limits how much people doing busi­ness with the City can contrib­ute to nonprofits that promote elec­ted offi­cials and are closely tied to those offi­cials. It also requires any nonprofit closely tied to an elec­ted offi­cial to disclose its donors.

It’s a good first step toward tack­ling a grow­ing prob­lem.