Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2079 Tue, 23 Apr 2019 00:49:01 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Lobby Laws Should Empower the Grassroots, Not Big Money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8309-lobby-laws-should-empower-the-grassroots-not-big-money http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8309-lobby-laws-should-empower-the-grassroots-not-big-money alb gov cuomo

(photo: Governor's Office)


Imagine two New Yorkers heading to Albany for a day of advocacy.

One is a lobbyist with multiple clients, traveling to the Capitol in Amtrak business class for the third time that week. She’s spent a career working behind the scenes with elected officials trying to influence legislation and get favorable treatment for her clients. The other is an entry-level employee at a homeless shelter, sitting in a coach bus filled with clients and nonprofit service providers. It will be his first-ever meeting with an elected official.

The average New Yorker understands that these two New Yorkers— a lobbyist and a nonprofit employee—have very different roles in our political system. Why is Governor Cuomo trying to treat them as the same?

Currently, professional lobbyists must report who is paying them, which government officials they speak with, and which laws or regulations they are trying to influence. This ensures government officials know who they are talking to and taxpayers know who is spending large amounts of money to influence the government.

To follow these regulations, most lobbyists have compliance staff who attend mandatory trainings, read and follow the 92-page lobbyist regulations, track everyone’s lobbying time and expenses, file at least 6 reports a year, and administer “reportable business questionnaires” to the lobbying firm’s partners and managers. Other firms pay upwards of $500 per month to outside compliance experts who perform these services.

But the governor's budget plan would impose a stringent regulatory regime on any organization spending $500 or more to reach out to lawmakers. The likely result: grassroots organizations will be unable to meet with lawmakers, leaving the legislative corridors clear for big spending lobbyists to wield their influence and set the agenda.

Nonprofits often rely on their own staff or volunteers to communicate with elected officials. Current regulations require nonprofits to file the same reports as lobbyists if they spend $5,000 or more in a single year. At the $5,000 threshold, this reporting requirement for nonprofits is already a bit over the top: because no money changes hands, there is less chance of influence peddling. And mandatory disclosure for nonprofits seems duplicative, as a legislator already knows the employee of a local social services organization speaks on behalf of that organization. Already, this $5,000 threshold covers more than 99% of all lobbying expenses—this part of the system works.

The governor’s proposal would reduce this registration trigger to a mere $500 per year. A nonprofit that pays $1,000 to rent a bus to take volunteers from New York City to Albany for one lobby day would be treated like a professional lobbyist. So would a nonprofit whose executive director has a few meetings with her local City Council members to advocate for criminal justice reform that would affect local teens.

Why does it matter when nonprofits are being treated like lobbyists? It’s because the cost of compliance is too high. Thinly staffed grassroots organizations do not have compliance staff. If they file a single report late, they can be fined $2,000. Faced with the steep cost of compliance, many will go silent. They will not take community members to Albany, or explain to elected officials how proposed laws will play out in the real world.

If Governor Cuomo gets his way, pretty soon we won’t be able to imagine two different types of advocates heading to the State Capitol. His regulations would ensure that only well-off special interests have access to their legislators for years to come. This proposal should not pass.

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Laura Abel is Senior Policy Counsel at Lawyers Alliance for New York. Sharon Stapel is President and CEO of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York. Michelle Jackson is Deputy Director of the Human Services Council of New York.

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Lobby Laws Should Empower the Grassroots, Not Big Money Mon, 25 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8270-claiming-attempt-to-silence-them-advocacy-groups-oppose-cuomo-lobbying-proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8270-claiming-attempt-to-silence-them-advocacy-groups-oppose-cuomo-lobbying-proposal Cuomo press conference

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 agenda includes a host of voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms. Of three provisions related to government lobbying, one is spurring backlash from nonprofits, smaller advocacy organizations, and grassroots activists who feel threatened. Cuomo would like to require any individual or organization spending over $500 in a year on lobbying to be required to register as a lobbyist, lowering the threshold from $5,000.

The proposal is sparking outcry from nonprofit leaders and members, among others, who view the legislation as exclusionary of smaller organizations and unincorporated activist groups that do little formal lobbying and cannot afford the labor or time to navigate the state’s complex lobbying regulations. A letter from 15 New York nonprofits outlines vehement opposition to the new legislation. “Perversely, while this might increase the number of filings, it will effectively silence small groups while increasing the influence of big money in government,” the letter reads.

Signees include The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, Homeless Services United, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Lawyer’s Alliance, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, and the NYC Immigration Coalition, among others.

In addition to lowering the registration threshold, Cuomo’s two other lobbying reforms include redefining “reportable business relationships,” i.e. compensation paid to individuals connected with lobbying, to those involving $500 or more, instead of the current $1,000.

The third provision would mandate a semi-annual report for lobbying expenditures exceeding $500, lowering the threshold from the current $5,000. Cuomo has included the three lobbying reforms in his policy book and Executive Budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the Legislature before a budget deal is due April 1 for the new fiscal year.

According to the governor’s office, his larger bill is a multipronged reform package. “It’s not just lobbying reform. It’s lobbying reform, and campaign finance reform, and independent expenditure reform, and voting reform, and procurement reform. It’s all related and we have an unprecedented opportunity to increase transparency and disclosure and improve our democracy for the better. The fact that some self-described reform groups are against reform speaks to the problem in better ways than I can,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo.

Co-signers of the letter believe the bill would limit their ability to participate in New York democracy, and some observers of state politics believe it is purposefully aimed at quieting Cuomo critics.

Jim Purcell, chief executive officer of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, made the decision to add his organization to the letter. “It’s not a fundamental disagreement about accountability, but this is taken in a direction that’s unnecessary and burdensome,” he said.

Purcell gave an example of how quickly an individual can hit $500 in lobbying expenditure. “The train back and forth to Albany is $100. A cab is $20. An organization that spends one day a year lobbying or organizing a letter to support foster care for kids, it ends up feeling like you don’t want to hear from us.”

From a bigger picture perspective, $287 million was spent in 2017 on lobbying state government by 3,415 filers, per the latest available data from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Laura Abel, senior counsel for the Lawyer’s Alliance, an organization that co-signed the letter, said the top 100 filers spent 22 percent of the total amount, which translates to $63 million. By contrast, 390 filers spent less than $10,000.

“It’s a lot like election spending, where you’ve got a handful of really wealthy people and companies putting in most of the money. And then you’ve got a lot of small, really small spenders.” said Abel.

Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit watchdog that advocates for transparency and accountability at the state and city levels, also opposes the governor’s proposed lobbying reform. Its analysis, released last month, cites New York State’s 92 pages of lobbying regulations as “some of the most comprehensive in the country,” consisting of “carefully tracking and reporting compensation, expenses, hours spent lobbying, persons lobbied, and bills, executive orders, and procurement lobbied on in addition to potentially having to disclose reportable business relationships.”

Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for the organization, said “We think the benefits of the additional transparency are exceeded by the cost of burdens on smaller organizations.”

The burden of the legislation, if enacted, also goes in another direction. JCOPE commissioners during a January 29 meeting to discuss the governor’s proposed budget recognized what would be added responsibility for regulators. After the proposed legislation was read aloud, commissioner James E. Dering said, “Requiring lobbyists to spend $500 or more would precipitously increase the resources needed. One would hope if this is enacted there will be resources provided certainly at that time, but we may need resources in advance to gear up for that. It would be quite an increase.”

While many typically think of lobbying as done by high-powered for-hire firms, it takes many forms. As Purcell said, “I can hear someone saying ‘Lobbying is a dirty business, and I don’t want to do that,’ but if you want to have your voice heard, you have to visit your local official or go to Albany.”

Note - This article has been updated.

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Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal Sun, 10 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6702-now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6702-now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job Keith Wright Governor Cuomo

Keith Wright, left, & Gov. Cuomo photo: (Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.

Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP was first reported by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.

The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on the DHC website. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.

Under New York State’s Public Officers Law, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”

McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.”   

Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.

“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”

Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.

Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.

“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.

In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."

DHC's "team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," according to the firm, and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."

Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”

Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.

Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”

[Read: Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job Thu, 05 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6567-lobbying-cuomo-how-to-get-the-governor-on-your-side http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6567-lobbying-cuomo-how-to-get-the-governor-on-your-side Cuomo speech better NY

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


Have an issue you want addressed in Albany? Perhaps you’d like the state to legalize your new multi-million dollar venture into the “sharing economy” -- one that terrifies existing business interests and labor unions; maybe you want to change the protections offered by New York’s civil rights laws; or maybe you want in on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state allocates to economic development programs. No matter the issue, you’re going to want Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most powerful person in New York, on your side.

Cuomo, a Democrat known to get his way in Albany, is revered by many for being able to dictate terms to the state Legislature on controversial issues and accomplishing what could not be accomplished by others, once he sets his mind to it.

But while the governor sometimes has his own pet issues that he pushes with intensity, he often doesn’t come along easily on a cause. And if campaign finance filings are any indication, Cuomo doesn’t often move without significant campaign donations either before or after the fact. A lot of the time the notoriously prickly governor, whose administration has been known for its “get along or kill” approach, won’t get behind an issue without a fight. But taking Cuomo on in any public way comes with serious risk and can have major consequences.

Those, whether deep-pocketed or not, interested in seeing the governor support an issue he is not immediately draw to must wrestle with the best approach to lobbying Cuomo.

As government is a continuous stream of policy and program decisions, there are no shortage of interested parties pushing their causes, and the governor often has the final word, legislators, labor groups, lobbyists, and others often must decide what combination of tactics is best to convince Cuomo to back a proposal.

Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of lobbyists and heads of issue-focused campaigns about what a successful lobbying effort needs in order to get the right kind of attention from Cuomo.

As this article is published, public education advocates are finishing a walk from New York City to Albany to push for school funding and the governor continues to weigh whether to sign a bill that could crush Airbnb in the state. These are just two examples of current issues where people are trying put pressure on the governor to act. For the former, teachers-union-backed advocates have jousted with Cuomo to the point of hostility. On the latter, those who want to see Cuomo sign the bill regulated Airbnb have mostly left him alone publicly, while Airbnb has more outwardly sought to make its case for a veto.

Looking ahead to 2017, there will be no shortage of issues where interested parties will be trying to convince the governor and the Legislature to act one way or another, from upstate Uber legalization to the cap on charter schools and much more.

To court just about any elected official, you need at least one of: a ground game, as in grassroots supporters willing to demonstrate publicly and able to grab media attention, or at least the appearance of one; a money game, as in the ability to show that your cause has the attention of large campaign donors; and a behind-the-scenes game, as in the ability to influence insiders, which many include consistent, even constant, lobbying and contact with key administration officials. The ground game and the money game usually indicate, to varying degrees, that you have some semblance of solid rationale to your proposal.

Along with these basics, lobbyists have to consider the nuances of Gov. Cuomo’s personality and long history in politics. Known as a master strategist, Cuomo is also seen as flexible on many of his political stances because he, like many governors, tries to combine being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The key with Cuomo is often showing him how the proposal fits his image and gives him a chance to be big and bold. Cuomo is not shy about wanting to be first on issues.

“People have to be very sensitive when they deal with the administration,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which often pushes the administration on reform. “They have to be very careful not to come off as a threat to the administration because the administration is a unitary organization. The governor deals with politics and policy directly, in a way that is unseen in other states. When a group works with him he likes it and when groups work against him, he hates it.”

Cuomo likes, of course, to move on things when he’s ready to, and when they make sense for him politically and for the state generally. He is keenly aware of his political standing among key constituencies and of what it takes to remain in power.

There’s a long line of lobbyists willing to lament off the record about being “put in the penalty box” by the administration for one public statement or another: a quote that was too sharp, a press release that was too pointed. For some the penalty is being denied access to the administration for a period of time; for others penalties mount and they end up with an outright ban. “It's as though you no longer exist to them,” one lobbyist told Gotham Gazette. “They forget your name and encourage everyone else to do the same.”*

With six years as New York’s chief executive, it's become clear to a number of lobbyists that the best way to get Cuomo onboard with a policy proposal is to present a campaign that has everything: grassroots supporters who can promote an issue and also make life miserable for the opposition; big-money donors who can support major campaign efforts; and a lobbying apparatus that works behind the scenes to sway legislators.

“If you are going to confront this Governor and any Governor, really, you have to show public opinion is with you,” said Horner. “And if the donor class is upset it can also move the administration. Put both together and you’ve got something.”

Cuomo has made his name as Governor by joining with these type of efforts, from marriage equality to the minimum wage. Including several recent examples, the governor does appear susceptible to loud outcry by a group of advocates, whether it is on police killings of unarmed civilians, allocating affordable housing funds, or a moratorium on fracking.

“The most successful lobbying efforts in New York combine grassroots supporters with major donors,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, also a government reform group.

When Cuomo ran for Governor in 2010, he was far from an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, but early in his term it became clear that several major donors were interested in advancing the policy behind the scenes, while activist groups were more than willing to press the issue publicly. Essentially, it would also give Cuomo a chance to make big, national news.

A vote on marriage equality had failed by inches under Gov. David Paterson and advocates weren’t ready to give up. Cuomo initially feared the same kind of embarrassing result that befell Paterson -- left standing on the state Senate floor with dissapointed legislators.

According to two sources involved in the campaign, Cuomo saw the opportunity to lead on a national issue while endearing himself to his liberal base at the same time he was angering other parts of that base by advancing fiscally conservative measures.

When Cuomo decides he wants to accomplish something - no matter how much cajoling it takes to get him there - he goes after his goal aggressively.

The Cuomo administration and a number of wealthy donors, including hedge fund managers Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, quickly began the work of wooing Senate Republicans to their side, and by June 24, 2011 Cuomo had the votes he needed to pass marriage equality in New York. The administration monitored the floor vote in the Senate obsessively, interjecting at times to ensure Senate Republicans would not renege on their promise to bring the bill to a vote and to show sensitivity to the Republican members who had made what would be a career-ending decision to vote for it.

The proceedings were so tightly choreographed that most Senate Democrats who supported the bill were not allowed to speak about it. When the final votes were cast Cuomo took to the airwaves to claim credit for a successful campaign that a year before he seemed uninterested in.

Donations from grateful supporters of marriage equality swept into Cuomo’s campaign coffers before and after the vote. The Empire State Pride Agenda gave Cuomo $60,000 in May 2011; Loeb gave Cuomo $19,367 in 2012; and a number of marriage equality supporters organized high-dollar fundraisers for the governor.

The governor has repeated these kind of issue campaign takeovers in years since, showcasing the power of his elected position with the virtually unmatched will and desire for big accomplishments possessed by the officeholder.

“I got the sense that within the right national political moment anything is possible with the governor,” one veteran social justice advocate told Gotham Gazette of Cuomo. “It is on the table as long as he is the first to do something.”*

That feeling was reinforced in 2015 when Cuomo suddenly paired with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) “Fight for $15” to champion a minimum wage increase he had once dismissed as fantasy. Cuomo was working alongside some of his biggest critics from the left, like Michael Kink and Citizen Action and other Working Families Party members, while touring the state in a recreational vehicle paid for by unions. The governor, who at times in the past was the target of angry Fight for $15 rallies, was now attending them and hosting streaming video of them on his website.

Labor groups poured nearly $2 million into the Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice - most of the cash from SEIU and its various committees and affiliates.

SEIU is also a consistent donor to Cuomo’s reelection campaign and the campaigns of his allies.

The Fight for $15 had gotten the governor on board after showing a groundswell on the issue, with the power of active and deep-pocketed labor unions, and in the wake of an embarrassing challenge from the governor’s left in his 2014 re-election. Big name Democrats were also taking up the issue and becoming heroes to significant blocs of Democratic voters.

While large public campaigns that involve the governor have clearly been effective, perhaps the most impactful lobbying of Cuomo is done almost completely out of public eye.

Multiple lobbyists point to Cuomo’s relationships with 1199-SEIU, the powerful hospital workers union, and Jennifer Cunningham of the firm SKD Knickerbocker as ideal arrangements for an issue-focused organization and a lobbyist looking to move their agendas in New York.

Cunningham has been labeled “The Most Powerful Woman in Albany” and was an adviser to Cuomo during his early years as Governor. Cunningham and 1199 annihilated Paterson’s ambitions to run for election in 2010, unleashing a brutal $1 million a week advertising campaign in response to his proposed $3.5 billion cut to the state’s Medicaid program.

Cunningham declined to comment or be interviewed for this article.

Cuomo has handled the union much differently than many others, giving it a seat at the table when cuts are proposed and rarely, if ever, having any public conflict with it.

“They are the most powerful lobbying force in the state,” marveled one lobbyist. “They combine labor and management and are extremely sophisticated. They are so powerful you don’t have to hear about them until they have to crush someone. There is no fight with them because it's like, ‘Godzilla is in my closet. Do I need to let him out to stomp on you?’”

Most lobbyists and issue groups don’t have an operation anywhere near the scope of 1199-SEIU, and over the last two years smaller advocacy groups have been confronted with how to lobby the administration on limited resources.

For groups pushing for criminal justice reform and for state government to fund supportive and affordable housing, for example, lobbying the administration in a friendly manner failed initially and they took the risk of confronting the governor publicly.

Shelly Nortz of Coalition for the Homeless said that 2014 efforts to get the Cuomo administration to deliver on supportive housing funding. The group continued to pressure Cuomo, working with and praising Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo’s rival, for his supportive housing initiative in 2015, and then getting more and more vocal calling for Cuomo to do what they said was his part.

The Coalition and its allies were encouraged when Cuomo prioritized funding to fight homelessness in his 2016 State of the State address, but when the governor and the Legislature failed to agree on how to distribute it, Nortz’s group kicked the public pressure campaign into high gear.

“We’ve been having a presence outside the governor’s office,” Nortz said of regular rallies to call for release of the funds set aside in the state budget. As the group and other members of the NY/NY Housing coalition have issued press releases and done interviews on the subject, sometimes harshly criticizing Cuomo, the governor’s office has reacted in various ways. At one point, an administration spokesperson said that the governor hadn’t intended to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would distribute the housing funds this year and instead expected to do it next year.

After being rebuffed, the administration tried a different path: releasing an MOU approved by the administration, essentially to move the ball into state legislative leaders’ court. The MOU wasn’t signed by either legislative leader, but it was an indication that the administration was squirming under the pressure brought by housing groups.

Nortz acknowledged that most small advocacy groups can’t manage to turn out the kind of presence housing groups have to pressure the governor. She said she is unsure how effective their efforts have been given that the MOU remains unsigned. “It’s reminiscent of 2014 in a lot of ways,” said Nortz. “There is talk but there is no agreement.”

Criminal justice reform advocates describe having to pull Cuomo forward kicking and screaming to ensure oversight by a special prosecutor in instances of police killings of civilians. In 2015 the governor felt pressure from the mothers and family members of civilians killed by police, black and Latino legislators, and major advocacy groups. Unable to move the Legislature to action during session, activists didn’t let go, instead amplifying their calls for the governor to do something.

On July 8, 2015 Cuomo announced an executive order giving the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate police killings of civilians. The move angered many conservatives and law enforcement officials across the state, but pleased many activists and elected officials, especially legislators of color, many of whom joined Cuomo at the signing of the order.

Advocates involved in the push say they believe they were successful in moving Cuomo because the governor is particularly sensitive about his most concentrated voting base, which consists of African-Americans from New York City. Furthermore, Cuomo was able to claim that he was “the first” governor to take action on what was coming into focus as a major national issue.

While the executive order was a victory for advocates, their momentum has stalled since. Cuomo has acknowledged that he would like to see legislation to make a special prosecutor permanent in such cases, but he has not pushed the issue with the Republican Senate Majority, where opposition lies.

A number of lobbyists say this is a typical result for a lobbying effort that confronts and calls out Gov. Cuomo. “They got something but they didn’t get all of it,” said one long-time lobbyist. “You can rattle him and force him to move to stop the bleeding but it isn’t the best move in the long run.”

Advocates, legislators, businesspeople, and lobbyists who don’t have a direct line to Cuomo or a long-standing alliance are often faced with that risky question of when to go at the governor with an aggressive public relations campaign. They can pay off wildly or they can put you on the governor’s bad side -- sometimes both.

Business lobbyists say confrontational campaigns are their absolute last resort with any administration, but note that smaller issue-based groups don’t have a wealth of options at their disposal.

Efforts to expand newer, technology-based businesses like Airbnb and Uber have set the stage for what some lobbyists say will be “heavyweight showdowns” with the well-established hotel trades and taxi lobbies, respectively. As Cuomo weighs whether to sign a bill that would be damaging to Airbnb, both supporters and opponents of the bill have struggled some with how to cajole him in their direction, especially around how much public pressure to mount.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into the Governor’s economic development programs has put considerably more scrutiny on how lobbyists and those with business before the state use donations to get the attention of the governor and his closest allies. Fear over corruption was triggered because major developers, including two charged by Bharara, made major donations to Cuomo’s reelection campaign within months of winning major economic development contracts with the state. Bharara has also charged three of Cuomo’s allies with working to fix bids for the contractors they prefer. Cuomo has denied knowledge of the alleged arrangement and he has not been accused of wrongdoing, but it is his campaign that benefited.

New York lacks the conflict of interest laws that limit campaign contributions from groups with business before the state. A July report by Politico New York showed that most of the donors to Cuomo’s campaign have business before the state, or interest in pending legislation. Cuomo has always claimed that he makes decisions on the merits.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

*Note: due to a mistake on the part of Gotham Gazette, attempts to reach the Cuomo administration for comment for this article did not reach the intended party. Cuomo's office should have been afforded to opportunity to respond to the questins at hand in this article, including certain allegations, and we apologize for the error. A prior note that indicated Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment was removed after it became clear that requests for comment did not reach representatives for Cuomo. After making this realization in communication with Cuomo's office, Gotham Gazette offered the Cuomo administration an opportunity to comment.

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Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side Tue, 11 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000