NY fracking foes: will become lobby if required

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Artists Against Fracking say the group and supporter-celebrities, including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, haven’t been told to register as lobbyists in their campaign to stop gas drilling in New York, but will if required to continue their cause.

A good-government advocate and two lobbying experts said Monday the state should review whether Artists Against Fracking and the celebrities should be registered as lobbyists. That would require disclosure of how much money they’ve raised and how it’s been spent. The measure a way for the public to know who is influencing policy.

A spokesman for the group said it will register if required to.

The group and dozens of celebrities have opposed the hydraulic fracturing method of gas drilling that New York is considering for an economically depressed area upstate.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

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.

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