State Senate advertising may breach NY campaign finance reforms

By Andrew Donegan

The race for the New York State Senate’s 22nd District may have brought on a violation of the newly passed Democracy Protection Act. Advertising began appearing in the New York Times mobile app on Monday calling for people to vote against the 22nd District’s Republican incumbent Martin Golden that did not disclose who paid for it.

The Democracy Protection Act brings the requirements for online campaign advertising closer to those that apply to more traditional media, specifically those around disclosing any advertising’s source of funding. It was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this past April and includes a provision requiring online political communication targeted to 50 voters or more must disclose which individual or group is funding it. The lack of disclosure in the ad would imply a violation of the Act.

A spokesperson for the Andrew Gounardes, the Democratic nominee for Brooklyn’s 22nd district, categorically denied the ad came from his campaign. All the major PACs endorsing Gounardes that have issued responses, including StreetsPAC, Fighting For Children PAC and Bold Progressives, have all issued similar denials.

The New York Times stated their intention to remove the ad once it was brought to their attention and no further appearances have been reported at this stage. They did not respond to inquiries about who paid for the ad.

The Democracy Protection Act was implemented in part due to the dissemination of misinformation and interference by the Russian Internet Research Agency via social media. As this is the first election since it’s passage no previous reports of violations can be found.

The advertisement featured on the New York Times mobile app

The ad reads ‘Vote for safer streets. Vote against Marty Golden. Nov 6.’ alongside a black and white photo of Golden. This would appear to reference Golden’s controversial history with speeding and speed cameras.

Golden has claimed to support speed cameras but has acted to oppose their introduction and hinder their implementation. Additionally he’s been caught on camera 14 times speeding through school zones, 3 of which were in 2018.

The use of the term ‘vote against’ qualifies the ad for coverage by campaign finance law due to the Supreme Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo. The 1976 case defined a series of terms that the Court deemed ‘expressly advocated’ the election or defeat of a candidate that are colloquially referred to as the magic words.

While the ads funding remains unclear at this stage it would appear to be the first test of New York’s Democracy Protection Act.

UPDATE 20:02 EST: Radio Free Bay Ridge is reporting the funding originated from a group called NY Forward. New York’s State Of Politics has reported NY Forward received funding from a committee called New Yorkers For A Brighter Future that lists the same address as the New York State United Teachers union.