Friday, April 03, 2015

The "most powerful" Jonathan Rosen, Mayor de Blasio, and the Forest City connection

On Wednesday came NY1 Exclusive: Who is Jonathan Rosen? The Most Powerful Man in Politics – Outside City Hall, a long report by Grace Rauh on the founder of BerlinRosen, who represents the mayor and then sometimes adversaries like real estate client Two Trees, a "place often rife with conflict."

BerlinRosen's reach is astonishing, working with 15 City Council Members (including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“It's a very tight interconnected web of influence because you've helped to elect the candidates to elected office and you are also helping to have the groups that you represent influence the actions of those elected officials. And controlling so much of that process does pose tremendous opportunities for conflict,” Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union told NY1. Susan Lerner of Common Cause said the problem was not unique to BerlinRosen.

The report raises significant reason for concern--BerlinRosen claims not to lobby, which would require more disclosure, but the line between communications consulting and lobbying is "gray." But it finds no smoking guns.

The AY connection

Rauh got a quote from a BerlinRosen client. “Our company has always felt that having outside PR firms brings a great external presence and a great external set of ideas. A consultant has a way of looking at a project that we are knee-deep in from a little distance,” Forest City Ratner’s Ashley Cotton told NY1.

What's unmentioned is the situation involving a project like Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, when various parties are all on the general same team. BerlinRosen represents not only de Blasio and Forest City, but has represented community partners like ACORN.

That leads to harmony in the message being put before the public rather and likely leads to less scrutiny.

It also makes me wonder how the BerlinRosen connection affects a client like Council Member Brad Lander, a de Blasio ally (and successor in Council seat) who once was much more critical of Atlantic Yards.

Remember how in November 2013 I annotated a New York Times graphic about de Blasio's Circle of Power by showing the connection between Rosen, Lewis, and Forest City Ratner.

A history of warnings

Consultant and gadfly Gary Tilzer, in his TrueNews blog, pointed out, among much more:
The Goo Goos In the NY1 Reporter Have Never Said A Word About Berlin Rosen in the 3 Years True News Has Been Writing About Them
True News Reported Over A Year Before NY1 About the Conflict of Interests of Berlin Rosen Working for Both the Mayor and Developers like Two Trees, Domino Sugar
Note that after I tweeted the need to credit Tilzer and others, Rauh later offered credit and noted that de Blasio ducked her questions about BerlinRosen.

Other warnings, and a reform not enacted

Last September, Crain's New York Business's Chris Bragg wrote Just don't call these consultants lobbyists: They move government without having to disclose their activities. Call them clever, call them stealthy. From the article:
Ms. [Jennifer] Cunningham is part of a growing industry of strategic consultants who do not register as lobbyists yet nonetheless have close ties with New York politicians and represent clients (including elected officials) with interests before the government. These nonlobbyists—at firms such as SKDKnickerbocker, or SKDK, and BerlinRosen—get many of the lucrative paychecks accorded their registered peers without the hassles and scrutiny that come with having to disclose their frequent interactions.
Regarding BerlinRosen, he wrote:
Like Ms. Cunningham, Mr. Rosen is not a registered lobbyist. Yet he regularly meets with government officials. The mayor's schedule from his first five months in office shows Mr. Rosen was in at least nine meetings and on two calls.
Shortly after Mr. de Blasio became mayor, Mr. Rosen's firm was also hired to advance one of the mayor's pet causes: securing funding for universal prekindergarten. Rather than advocate directly on behalf of the mayor, however, the company represented a nonprofit group set up to lobby on the issue. That organization, Campaign for One New York, was founded by former de Blasio campaign manager Bill Hyers to lobby the state for pre-K funding. Campaign for One New York paid BerlinRosen $363,000 through June, according to its lobbying disclosure.
In helping to control the media message around the pre-K funding effort, BerlinRosen acted as if it were part of the administration. The company returned reporters' calls made to the City Hall press office about pre-K, while Mr. Rosen closely advised government officials on pre-K talking points, according to email messages obtained through a records request.
In May 2013, Ross Barkan wrote in City Limits, When Campaign Aides Are Lobbyists, Questions Mount:
Besides Parkside, Sheinkopf Ltd., MirRam Group and the Advance Group are all major firms that lobby and consult on political campaigns simultaneously. Statewide, Berlin Rosen, a firm that consults and lobbies, was the biggest recipient of campaign money in the 2010 election cycle among firms that perform both functions, according to NYPIRG. (In a statement, BerlinRosen's Michael Rabinowitz-Gold stresses that the firm "never communicates directly with elected officials on legislative or regulatory issues" but registers as a lobbyist because it creates websites and 800 numbers to facilitate constituent contact with officeholders.). 
Barkan pointed to a potential reform:
Citizens Union recommended in their 2011 report that candidates who participate in New York City's campaign finance program should be prohibited from using matching funds to purchase campaign consulting services from firms that also provide lobbying services. The recommendation has not been adopted.

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