Political consulting firms throughout the state may soon find that they need to register as lobbyists, forced to disclose their clients and income to the public. It could have a dramatic impact on the way business is done at City Hall and in Albany. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to build more housing for homeless people this week, he did so in the lobby of a residential development that does just that. It's run by a group called Breaking Ground. They are a client of the mayor's favored consulting firm, BerlinRosen, which was co-founded by Jonathan Rosen, a close adviser to the mayor.
The relationship between Breaking Ground and the communications firm that also advises de Blasio is not something either party has had to publicly disclose, but that may be changing. The state's ethics commission is preparing to start treating communications consultants like lobbyists.
"If you are doing public relations for the purpose of harnessing public opinion in order to get public policy makers to make a decision in your clients' favor, under this rule, that is lobbying," said Kenneth Fisher of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies.
In April, a NY1 investigation examined the relationship between BerlinRosen, its private clients and de Blasio. The firm works for real estate developers, unions, nonprofit organizations and the powerful financial firm Blackstone, which just sealed a deal with the de Blasio administration to buy Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. The firm has said repeatedly that it does not engage in lobbying.
"We need to make sure that those who are paid to influence government are reporting how much they are being paid and for what," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union. "There is no harm in doing what they are doing, but it gives the impression somehow that they are not up to any good."
If adopted by the state ethics commission, the regulations could affect de Blasio. He seeks advice regularly from outside consultants. It's a practice that may be called into question if those same advisers are considered lobbyists under the law.