New York's Lobbying and Ethics Watchdog Panel on Tuesday passed Sweeping New Regulations governing New York’s Lobbying Industry, with the stated objective to address Evolution in the Field and bring it greater Transparency. By a Unanimous Vote at its Monthly Meeting, the Commissioners of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed the 92 Pages of New Rules, which Expand on what’s traditionally been thought of under New York Law as Lobbying: Meetings between Elected Officials and Lobbyists who ask Politicians for Government Action.
Under the New Definitions, the Parameters are Expanded: A Person’s presence at a Lobbying Meeting or on a Lobbying Phone Call with an Elected Official, for instance, can Trigger the Requirement to Register as a Lobbyist with JCOPE, even if that Person does not personally ask an Elected Official to take Government Action. The idea behind the Rules is to Capture as Lobbyists a Class of Political Consultants that have wielded Influence with Elected Officials through Close Relationships, without actually themselves Engaging in Traditional Arm-Twisting. Using one’s Relationship simply to set up a Lobbying Meeting or Phone Call with an Elected Official would now count as Lobbying, as would introducing a Client to an Elected Official. So too would certain types of Social Media Activities meant to Influence New York Politicians.
A Major Plank of the Rules will Create more Disclosure around so-called “Grassroots Lobbying” in which Well-Funded Interest Groups seek to sway Public and Elected Official Opinions through Campaign-Style Lobbying Efforts. Those types of Campaigns seeking to Influence the Legislature have become increasingly Common in State Politics.
The Rules also include an Explicit Requirement that Lobbyists disclose the Names of the Lawmakers that they Lobby. Currently, Lobbyists and their Clients often simply list “Senate” “Assembly” or “Executive” as the Entity that they have Lobbied, which makes it difficult for the Public to know who exactly is being Influenced. The New Rules have been in formulation by JCOPE Staff over the past Two years. The Regulations take effect in 2019.
A Political Consulting Firm that has drawn Media Interest for its Influence, and where Employees have not usually Registered to Lobby, is New York City-based BerlinRosen, which is also a Main Campaign-Consulting firm for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio has been engaged in a Long-Standing Political Feud with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who Appoints Six of the Commissioners on JCOPE and much of whose Top Staff is Cuomo Veterans. JCOPE has also engaged in lengthy Investigations of a Lobbying Nonprofit set up by de Blasio and recently Finalized Settlements with Two of its Donors.
The Regulations, however, face possible Legal peril. David Grandeau, the State’s former Top Lobbying Official and now a Private Compliance Lawyer, said he Plans to File an Article 78 Proceeding seeking to Overturn them. Grandeau says the Legislature never Passed a Law authorizing JCOPE to broadly Reinterpret the State’s Lobbying Rules, and that JCOPE only has the Power to Issue Regulations under very Specific Circumstances under the Law. “It’s pretty simple: The law does not authorize them to do it,” Grandeau said. “They can write an opinion. But they can’t make law.”
Grandeau had previously threatened to File a Lawsuit if JCOPE did Pass the Regulations, and at a Hearing late last year, JCOPE Executive Director Seth Agata had said seemed to backtrack from them, stating that the New Regulations were merely “Advisory” and not creating New possible Legal Violations.
JCOPE Chairman Michael Rozen, however, clarified at a subsequent Meeting that the Regulations would indeed have the Force and effect of Law if Passed. At Tuesday’s Meeting where they were finally Approved, JCOPE Commissioner Marvin Jacob raised the Question of whether the Lobbying Regulations would face a Legal Challenge. Agata responded that no one had made a “Well-Founded” Argument against either the Substance of the Regulations, or JCOPE’s ability to Issue them. In a Statement he read at the Meeting, Rozen said the Regulations were “an important step in the commission’s efforts to ensure public transparency regarding who spends money to influence government, and where and how lobbyists and their clients spend that money.”
JCOPE Spokesman Walter McClure said that JCOPE does have the Ability to Create the Rules. That’s because New York Law says JCOPE has the Sole Authority to “Administer and Enforce” the Law, McClure said.
CLICK HERE to read the New Rules.
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