Report shows record lobbying in New York state

Apr 7, 2014

A new record has been reached in spending on lobbying in New York, according to a report released by the state’s ethics commission. It finds more than $200 million was spent, mostly by a few top interests, to try to influence government and policy in Albany.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics report finds $210 million was spent by lobbyists to mostly influence state and local governments. That’s nearly $1 million for each of the 213 senators and Assembly members.

Among the top spenders are familiar names. The tobacco company Altria, and teachers unions, as well as hospitals, public workers, a gambling company, and gas and oil interests.  

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg had tried to hide cigarettes from the counters of convenience stores, and health care and education are the largest parts of the state budget. New York is in the process of authorizing new gambling casinos, and deciding whether to allow the controversial drilling process known as hydrofracking in the state.

Bill Mahoney, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, has analyzed the biggest campaign donors for 2013, and he says the same groups also show up in the top 10 contributors list.

He says the two activities are interwoven.

“Lobbying certainly helps get bills passed,” Mahoney said. “But it’s not quite the same as showing up and getting some private time with an official where you’re handing them money which they can spend to benefit themselves.”

Overall spending on lobbying related activities actually dropped by $10 million after reaching a high point in 2011. The decrease is due to a decline in money spent on television ads.

A lobby group closely associated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Committee to Save New York, spent millions of dollars on television ads promoting Cuomo’s agenda during his first two years as governor. That group has now disbanded, but the Democratic State Committee, which is controlled by Cuomo, spent millions on TV ads in 2013 that also backed the governor's top legislative and budget priorities. Political parties don’t have to register as lobbyists.

Mahoney, with NYPIRG, says the Committee to Save New York and Democratic Party ads may have scared other interest groups off. In the past, they spent millions on negative ads that plagued former governors.

This year, Cuomo is using his own funds from his $33 million campaign war chest to finance ads. Many of Cuomo’s donations come from top lobbyists and lobbying interests.

The report shows that it also pays, apparently, to associate with the governor. Former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato is now a lobbyist with Park Strategies. His firm saw a 61 percent increase in business from 2012 to 2013. D’Amato, a Republican, has already said he’ll back Cuomo for reelection.

Meanwhile, the lobbying firm headed by Pat Lynch, a former communications director for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, saw a 17 percent decline in her business.