New York Observer: Senator Says He Will Push Bill to Require More Disclosure From Political Consultants

April 03, 2015

State Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, said today he will push legislation that would require disclosure for all political consulting firms that have “substantial contact” with both elected officials and other clients.

Mr. Avella, reacting to a NY1 story about the significant influence the consulting firm BerlinRosen has on City Hall, said he would want these firms to disclose their activities like registered lobbyists already do.

“The fact of the matter is that these firms are meeting with government officials, all the while advocating their outside clients’ interests,” Mr. Avella, the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, said in a statement. “Whether these firms are directly making requests of elected officials or not, they are in a position to broker agreements, expedite client meetings, and influence decision-makers.”

Mr. Avella noted he already backs legislation that would separate the activity of lobbyists and political consultants–the bill appears unlikely to pass either chamber–and said it’s “high time” to review laws regulating the activities of consulting firms, who critics say perform some of the same duties as lobbyists without having to register with the government.

“It is high time that we review the law regulating these activities and I am committed to developing legislation that would require disclosure for all firms that have substantial contact with both elected officials and outside clients,” Mr. Avella added.

What separates lobbying from other activities is defined under city and state laws as “any attempt to influence” legislation, executive orders, agency rules and regulations having the force and effect of law, as well as other governmental actions. Registered lobbyists face fines if they don’t comply with paperwork requirements.

Consultants like BerlinRosen, on the other hand, don’t have to register if they don’t engage in the strict definition of lobbying, though they can advise elected officials on political and media strategy while also representing clients, like nonprofits or major developers, who engage with these same elected officials. NY1 highlighted BerlinRosen because it’s the firm that successfully guided Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign for mayor and still lends him political guidance; at the same time, they advise clients who need to navigate City Hall.

Consultants argue they are doing nothing unseemly because they are following the law. If consultants engage in lobbying, they are still required to register, even if they aren’t calling themselves lobbyists. BerlinRosen clients will also hire separate lobbyists to engage in lobbying activities.

A spokesman for BerlinRosen declined to comment on Mr. Avella’s legislation. A source close to Mr. Avella provided few other details about the lawmaker’s legislative push, explaining that the effort is still in its early stages. It’s not clear what particular activity the senator would require to be disclosed.

“As we work to repair public trust in our elected officials, we must no longer tolerate lobbyists in consultants’ clothing,” Mr. Avella said.

Read the full story here.