Sunday, December 09, 2007

Project Sunlight, Forest City Ratner's lobbying, and the Times's partial eclipse

Welcome to Project Sunlight, a database unveiled Wednesday by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, an effort to bring transparency to the intersection of politics and money.

A Times CityRoom post Wednesday on Project Sunlight, to its credit, included a look at Brooklyn's biggest developer:
Speaking of Forest City — developer of the much-debated Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, and the third-biggest spender on lobbying services in Albany last year — let’s see how much the company has been spending this year. Put “Forest City Ratner” in the search, then click the “Client Financial” link after you get results. Turns out Forest City paid $496,253 for lobbying though the middle of last summer, about one-quarter what it plunked down in 2006, when the Atlantic Yards project was up for state approval.
(Click to enlarge graphics.)

Working it in Albany

Though some of FCR's lobbying undoubtedly went to projects other than Atlantic Yards, the lion's share of the money, $315,515, as the graphic at right shows, went to the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm, which last year had the state's biggest lobbying contract, $656,520, and this year has lobbied both the city and the state. (Half of that would be $328,260, so they're close to last year's pace.)

Still, the developer also engaged the following other firms:
Geto & DeMilly ($60,000)
Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein ($30,000)
Patricia Lynch Associates ($30,000)
Locicero & Tan ($24,000)
The Carey Group ($13,000)

Whichever among these worked on the "Atlantic Yards carve-out," worth some $200 million, it was money well-spent, from the developer's perspective.

In print, on the editorial page only

The Times hasn't run a print news article about the information in the new database, thus eclipsing some of the sunlight. In an editorial published Thursday headlined There’s Sunlight in Albany? , the newspaper opined:
So seldom is there good news out of New York’s state capital that when something like the new Project Sunlight Web site emerges, the instinct is to wonder how soon before the forces of darkness will try to kill it. Until they do, the new site from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office gives ordinary New Yorkers the ability to see information about their state that should have been easily accessible in the first place.
...As Mr. Cuomo argues correctly, it is only by revealing “the good, the bad and the ugly” that New Yorkers will start believing that somebody is telling them the truth about how their state really works.


Still, the Times could do a better job reporting on these kind of issues in print. Earlier this year, the newspaper failed to report in print (rather than a blog mention) about the companies and entities that spent the most on lobbying last year.

In-house lobbyists: 47

The new database also required entities to list their own in-house lobbyists and, as the screenshots below show (click to enlarge), Forest City has registered 47. That doesn't mean they've all actually lobbied, but you never know.

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