Monday, November 23, 2015

Proposal in Albany would require consultants like BerlinRosen, close to de Blasio and Forest City, to register as lobbyists

It hasn't made big headlines yet, but a significant change is percolating in Albany, where the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) is proposing to  require "strategic consulting firms" like BerlinRosen and SKDKnickerbocker--which, respectively, work for and have worked for Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner--to register as lobbyists.

Chris Bragg of the Albany Times-Union broke the news last Thursday, in JCOPE clarifies proposal targeting ‘strategic consultants’:
Some of New York’s most successful “strategic consulting” firms – such as Manhattan-based BerlinRosen and SKDKnickerbocker – have close relationships with politicians who are their campaign clients, and also represent interests with business before these clients. But their employees hardly ever register as lobbyists.

These firms maintain, however, that they do not actually ask those elected officials to make policy decisions benefitting those interests, and focus on public relations enhanced by insight into the thinking of public officials.

But JCOPE’s advisory opinion, if eventually passed, would expand the definition of lobbying beyond how its traditionally been interpreted by the industry and regulators. It is intended to cover not just direct lobbying, but consultants that use their connections to powerful officials to grease the wheels for direct lobbying – or for “door opening,” as JCOPE director of lobbying and senior counsel Martin Levine described at a commission meeting on Tuesday.
This proposal must be voted on, after public comments, which can be made until December 4. 

The news was treated as a victory by True News blogger Gary Tilzer, who has regularly pounded on the issue, trumpeting, "For Two Years True News Has Beaten the Shit out of Berlin Rosen."

NY1, which in April produced an investigation on the relationship between BerlinRosen and Mayor Bill de Blasio, last Thursday produced Political Consulting Firms in NY State May Soon Need to Register as Lobbyists, noting that, when  de Blasio announced a new plan for housing for the homeless, he did so in the lobby of a residential development run by a BerlinRosen client.

The New York Times on Nov. 5 published a front-page investigation, Mayor de Blasio’s Hired Guns: Private Consultants Help Shape City Hall, exploring the role of multiple firms. It has not yet reported on JCOPE's new proposal. 

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