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Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Law
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"NYC Law" refers to the legal and juridical dimensions of City public policy. What do the laws say? How have they been interpreted? What is the relationship between laws as written and rules as enforced?
The Context
The sheer size of NYC government requires its extensive legal involvement in countless issues. Over 700 attorneys are employed in the Office of the Corporation Counsel alone. Every major and minor public policy issue has a legal dimension. On some issues -- Charter revision or campaign finance limits, for example -- the legal dimension is paramount.
The Reporter
Margaret Reuter is the managing editor of City Law, the bi-monthly journal on City legal developments published by the Center for New York City Law. She also serves as an adjunct professor at New York Law School. She is reachable at [email protected].

by Meg Reuter

Lobbyists And Their Clients

Every year, one of the rituals of city governmental life is that all registered city lobbyists must disclose their clients and their fees to the City Clerk. The lobbyists, whether in-house lobbyists or hired guns, must disclose every client and every matter on which the lobbyist tried to influence Council legislation, agency rulemaking, zoning, or contracting decisions, among other items. They must report what was discussed and with whom it was discussed, whether elected official or an agency official.

When City Clerk Carlos Cuevas issues his annual report tallying the fees collected by the lobbyists and ranking the top ten lobbying firms (by revenue generated), all the daily newspapers report which lobbying firms' influence and fortunes are on the rise or waning. The Clerk's report does not tally or rank, however, which "clients" are spending how much in their efforts to influence city actions. Isn't that what we are most interested in? As you can see below, many of the companies, non-profits, and trade groups enlist the aid of multiple lobbying firms. Below is the list of the "clients" that spent at least $100,000 last year (2000) lobbying city officials, counting 15 entities, and

New York University (total)   $375,778  
NYU Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker $86,000 Budget and education issues
NYU Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, LLP $70,278 Zoning
NYU School of Dentistry Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker $54,000 Budget and education issues
NYU Creative Arts Team Robert J. Dryfoos $48,000 Budget, contracts and grants issues
NYU School of Law Geto & De Milly, Inc $47,500 Project on West 3rd Street, Mn
NYU Medical Center Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker $40,000 Budget items affecting School of Medicine
NYU In-house lobbyist $30,000 Budget, education issues, unified bulk proposal
Museum of Modern Art (total) $353,175  
MOMA Rosenman & Colin LLP $323,094 Re-zoning and related approvals
MOMA McDermott, Will & Emery $23,636 Pass-through contracts for MOMA expansion
MOMA In-house lobbyists $6,445 Capital needs and requests
American Airlines Claudia Wagner $180,000 Approval for American Airlines JFK redevelopment
Neighborhood Retail Alliance Richard Lipsky Associates $167,500 Land-use policy
Ferry Point Partners, Ltd. Greenberg Traurig $162,578 Not answered on filed disclosure report
NYC Partnership & Chamber of Commerce (total) $155,083  
NYC Partnership In-house lobbyists $100,917 Tax, land-use, education, budget, housing ATM issues, education policy and charter schools, Brownfields, hi-tech initiatives, Cross Harbor Tunnel issues
NYC Partnership Nixon Peabody LLP $54,166 Tax, transportation, education, housing issues
Empire State Association of Adult Homes & Assisted Living Facilities services licensing Coppola Ryan McHugh $150,000 Medical reimbursement issues, home care services
Forest City Ratner Companies (total) $138,856  
Forest City Ratner Geto & De Milly, Inc $96,000 Commercial and retail development including the Atlantic Terminal, Rego Park and Springfield Gardens, Qns, and Metrotech Center, Bk; sale of Qns property to BOE
Forest City Ratner Wachtel & Masyr LLP $22,378 Development of Shore Pkwy, Bklyn, First Ave. S.I., Queens Plaza, Steinway St., Metropolitan Ave., and MTA site, Qns.
Forest City Ratner Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker $20,000 Tax abatement, development, real property, tax issues, energy incentive programs; financing mechanisms; rent regulations
Forest City Ratner≠Site C/G Pillsbury Winthrop, LLP $1,478 Modification of urban renewal plan; zoning permits
Forest City Ratner Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP $1,360 Special permit for public parking garage on Worth St., Mn
The Related Companies, Inc. (total) $135672  
Related Cos. Wachtel & Masyr, LLP $107,672 Interpretation on building code, projects on 54th, Broadway, and 39th & 2nd Ave. in Mn, College Point and Gateway Retail Center, Brooklyn, various other sites
Related Cos. Figliola & Calcaterra $28,000 Residential and commercial development
Bell Atlantic Verizon (total) $123,041  
Bell Atlantic-Verizon Martin J. McLaughlin $60,000 Public telephone issues
Bell Atlantic (Verizon Communications) In-house lobbyist $62,500 Legislative, business, telephone, street issues
Verizon Pillsbury Winthrop LLP $541 BSA approvals for 1095 Avenue of Americas
National Assoc. of Securities Dealers Stadtmauer Bailkin LLP $122,486 Relocation incentives
Hotel Association of New York City (total) $114,000  
  Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker $100,000 Hotel, tourism, traffic issues, smoking laws, restaurant DOH inspections.
  In-house lobbyist $14,000 Smoke Free Air Act, Lex. Ave street fairs, repeal of $2/room hotel tax, hot sheets hotels, restaurant inspection website
Greater New York Hospital Assoc. Kenneth E. Raske $110,401 Budget, medicaid managed care & eligibility; hospital reimbursement, home care, welfare reform, hospital waste disposal, funding for AIDS & TB programs, zoning
TAM Restaurant Inc. Davidoff & Malito LLP $110,051 Renewal of restaurant lease; Loeb Memorial Boathouse
Independent Payphone Assoc. of NY Norman A. Levy, PC $100,500 Pay-phone franchise legislation

Our sunshine laws on lobbying and campaign finance are aimed at the same ends -- following the money. Who is paying whom, how much, to influence our governmental decision makers, on what topics. The campaign finance board's disclosure apparatus is twenty-first century, the lobbyist reporting system is decidedly nineteenth century. It shouldn't be.

The city's campaign finance program exacts a promise from candidates for city office. In exchange for generous public matching funds, the candidate must agree to limit campaign donations and spending, and TELL ALL about who gave to the campaign and how the money was spent. The Campaign Finance Board which administers the program started out determined to make the candidates' disclosures easily accessible to the public. Today one can visit their site, click on your candidate of choice and find out who has given to him and for whom the contributor works, how much was given and when, among other things. Or you can look up the "contribution history" for some generous civic-minded person to learn how many candidates they gave to and how much. The data is there, you chose the searches, the web does it all for you.

The lobbyists disclosure system is another story. Their filing forms are all submitted on hard copy, most are hand written. The city clerk's office goes to the trouble of typing up the list of registered lobbyists, their client list, and how much they earned from their clients each quarter. Yet it does not bother to mention the topics on which the lobbyists worked, or with which elected or city official they spoke.

We do not know from the city clerk's report why the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of American Folk Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and MOMA all found it necessary to engage lobbyists to chat up city officials. What did the lobbyists for each of these museums buttonhole a city official about? One can surmise that it had to do with their plans for expansion, or one can make an appointment to visit the clerk's office and ask to see the paper copies. But it's not easy.

The report does list each of the "clients," but it does not create lists "by client." So at first blush it might be mildly interesting to note that NYU has engaged a lobbying firm. After all it is a major institution in the city and a rather large property owner. It is a whole lot more interesting to know that NYU and its constituent parts have seven lobbying contracts and that they total over $375,000, the most of any entity in the city. Contrast this: Edison Schools, the leading private takeover artist of public schools, spent less than $35,000 and the New York Yankees spent all of $11,000 on lobbyists. To discern these nuggets of information, one must comb through the client lists, flip back and forth through the pages, and look for patterns. The report is not user-friendly, to say the least.

It is time the City Council gave the responsibility and budget to the "keeper" of the reports so that they can be made accessible to all in a meaningful manner, professional, and with the intent to be illuminating. The Campaign Finance Board has achieved that goal with political fundraising and spending. The City Clerk has never taken this initiative. We are less enlightened because of that.

Web info:

See previous Gotham Gazette column, "Lobbying" by Kevin McCarthy, discussing the lobbying business in general, and the 1999 Lobbyist Report in particular

Only half of the lobbying firms have web sites, few are illuminating about the work they do.

These lobbying firms had no Web sites I could find:

  • Davidoff & Malito
  • Robert J. Dryfoos
  • Figliola & Calcaterra
  • Geto & DeMilly
  • Richard Lipsky Associations
  • Martin J. McLaughlin
  • Wachtel & Masyr
  • Claudia Wagner

Sites For Beginners:

  • Center for New York City Law - The site excerpts select reports from each issue of City Law, a monthly journal published by the Center. Critiques of nearly 40 City government-oriented websites (with links). Recommended: analysis of 1989 charter mandate that the City annually assess the condition of its bridges, libraries, public schools, police stations and the like.
  • City Council - Besides profiling its members, the site allows the user to search local laws and explains how a bill becomes law. Searches for local laws and bills have some limitations. For instance a search for "lead-based paint" produced the recent local law, backed by the administration, but not the competing bill offered by council member Michels.
  • New York City's Law Department - Part of the City's comprehensive NYCLink the site provides descriptions of the work of each division. Highlights include the City's 1997 complaint challenging the constitutionality of the federal line item veto, in PDF format, and former Corporation Counsel Paul Crotty's case for tort reform.
  • New York Law Journal - Best feature: access to full text versions of most cases reported in its pages, most of which are never reported anywhere else (such as on westlaw or lexis). Retrieve and print out the cases reported in the Law Journal by picking "courts on" and searching by court. This is a real service, given that compiling your own archive of these decisions had been an arduous task of cutting, pasting, and photocopying. Good links to all kinds of law, business, university, and government related sites.

Other Recommendations:

  • Association of the Bar of the City of New York- Site of the City Bar, organization highlighting its recently issued reports. Now playing: the full text of a report on the City's enormous tort case backlog (more than 62,000 cases) by the Council on Judicial Administration. They critique City efforts in addressing the problem against formidable odds. The site also includes an impressive list of pro bono opportunities for lawyers and law students.
  • The Constitution Society - The Liberty Library has more than 100 classic essays on constitutional government in html, text and pdf format. Features such profound works as Machiavelli's The Prince, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, and the Constitutional Ratification Debates.
  • NYC Documents at Columbia Univ. - This site links to scores of City related sites and guides users through Columbia's substantial collection of NYC-related materials by category.
  • Independent Budget Office - One of the illuminating features of the site: It will calculate exactly how your tax payments are divided up and spent at each level of government (city, state, and federal) both by broad category and by selected programs. Just input your taxes paid and adjusted income from your tax returns (or you can just estimate them, of course), and it will calculate the results.
  • Public Advocate - The chock-full site of Public Advocate Mark Green -- a good place to look to measure the worth of the office that Mayor Giuliani has targeted for abolition.
  • Citizens Budget Commission - Features recent research papers of the CBC. The latest: comparing the competitiveness of the NYC metro region's transportation infrastructure -- the City's highway and mass transit systems -- to LA, Chicago, Tokyo, London, and Paris.
  • Article 78 - This site provides a useful primer for lawyers and nonlawyers who seek to challenge a City or State action claiming it was irrational, arbitrary or illegal. The site explains how an Article 78 action can be started, though it provides little help with what standards the courts apply to overturn an agency decision. Sponsored by a private law firm, the site has some promotional material, but its primer is "promotion free."

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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