NY celebrity anti-frackers not registered as lobby
FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2013 file photo, Sean Lennon and actress Susan Sarandon visit to a fracking site in New Milford, Pa. Dozens of celebrities may be running afoul of the law as they unite under the banner of one group that is seeking to prevent a method of gas drilling in New York state. Artists Against Fracking opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and boasts members including Yoko Ono and actors Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Celebrities of music, stage and screen who are gaining attention for the effort to block New York from approving a method of gas drilling may soon be getting more attention than they bargained for — from state regulators.
Artists Against Fracking and nearly 200 entertainers connected with it aren't registered lobbyists, according to a search by The Associated Press of the database of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. State law is designed to disclose who is trying to influence government action, how much money they are spending and where the money's going.
The activists, among them Yoko Ono and actors Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon, are trying to protect the environment from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The group says forcing water and chemicals deep into shale deposits to extract gas threatens drinking water and the environment.
The group's website implores, "Tell Governor Cuomo: Don't Frack New York."
"You spend money lobbying, you have to register," said David Grandeau, former executive director of the state lobbying commission and now an attorney representing lobbyists and clients. On Monday, after the AP article appeared, he added: "It's clearly lobbying" and said the commission "missed the boat."
A good-government advocate said the lobbying regulator, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, should look into the case.
"When someone is trying to influence or change public opinion, there's always a concern if the public doesn't know exactly how much money they are spending to do that," said Barbara Bartoletti, of the League of Women Voters. "I don't know if they are splitting hairs between educating the public or lobbying."
The commission can't confirm or deny it will take on any case, spokesman John Milgrim said.
Ravi Batra, a former member of the commission board, called it an important issue.
"When celebrities get involved in influencing public opinion, it behooves everyone to make sure the law is followed to the letter," he said.
There's no public record of how much money Artists Against Fracking has spent, but its website contains links for visitors to make donations, which are directed to the Sustainable Markets Foundation. Although the foundation is an established charitable organization and its donations are recorded publicly, it isn't registered with New York as a lobbying client, either.
Under New York law, however, it appears Artists Against Fracking is required to be a registered lobbyist because the law hinges on spending over $5,000. The group hasn't filed lobbying reports, so the amount it has spent and what it was spent on isn't known publicly. Experts in Albany say the website and public events appear to have cost well over $5,000.
The group hasn't responded to requests for comment in the past two weeks or on Monday. The group's account executive at its public relations firm, Fenton of New York City, didn't respond to a request for comment.
The group includes Ono and Sean Lennon, the widow and son of musician John Lennon. They recently attended an anti-fracking event in Albany with Ruffalo, actors Zooey Deschanel, Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman, and singer Lady Gaga, along with other longtime activists such as David Crosby and Paul McCartney. None of them are registered to lobby in New York.