Lobbying gets a bum rap, not just in New York, but everywhere.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with advocating specific issues with the men and women in position to make decisions on those issues — our lawmakers in Albany. It’s just a communications avenue designed to create a direct pipeline to our elected officials, and instead co-opted by those with influence and cash (which helps create that influence).
Lobbying is big business in New York. City & State profiled the 10 biggest lobbying firms in New York last year, all of which earned just under $65 million in compensation. That’s more than $300,000 of influence for every Assemblyman, senator and our governor — just from the top 10 firms.
Companies like Delta Air Lines, Airbnb, Verizon Communications and even Amazon have the right to advocate issues, just like everyone else. But if they are going to spend a lot of money to do it, then we as a public have the right to know what was spent, where, and which lawmakers were targeted in those efforts.
Last January, Gov. Cuomo introduced what he called an “aggressive” proposal that would reform New York’s lobbying laws, for what he said would eliminate some of the unfair advantages those with money have over everyone else.
The proposals, which he is including with his executive budget, would create a code of conduct for state lobbyists (which he says would be the first in the nation), ban political consultants from lobbying lawmakers they helped elect, and increase penalties for lobbyists who fail to follow disclosure rules.
That’s all fine and good. But it’s one other part of this proposal that has a lot of some of our communities’ most grassroots organizations up in arms — and rightfully so. Cuomo wants to lower the expenditure threshold of groups having to register with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics from the current $5,000 to $500.
What that means is that any group that spends more than $500 in a single year toward efforts to influence elected officials would have to register, file reports, and pay filing fees — some where the fees themselves could end up costing more than a group spends.
Cuomo believes this will help create more transparency for lobbyists. Instead, it targets grassroots groups like Indivisible, for example, who might spend a little bit of money on flyers, or to take a bus up to Albany to meet with lawmakers.
The concern with lobbying is not the groups spending $500 or even $5,000 a year. We’re talking about groups that are spending tends of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands — if not millions of dollars — each year.
The 10th most-compensated lobbying firm, according to City & State, received $4.6 million in compensation for their efforts. That’s the equivalent of 9,200 Riverdale Huddles spending $500 a year to try and get their voices heard in Albany. And there are nine other firms that earned more in compensation in 2017 than Manatt Phelps & Phillips.
The end result will be nothing more than an attempt to crush grassroots advocacy groups, and silence the voices of those who are working out of kitchens and basements and coffee shops.
It’s from these advocacy groups that Democrats were able to topple Cuomo’s favored Independent Democratic Conference and retake control of the government. But instead of thanking these neighborhood do-gooders, Cuomo is punishing them.
The Assembly and senate should not only reject this attempt to stifle these community voices, they should condemn it. But right now, even their silence is deafening.