Saturday, May 22, 2004

Mayor Backs New Limits On Donations To Campaigns

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called yesterday for a law to prohibit individuals or companies that do business with the New York City government from making contributions to candidates for city offices.

''It's just too obvious a conflict of interest,'' the mayor said on his weekly radio show on WABC-AM. ''If you do business with the city, you shouldn't be allowed to contribute to any campaign. It doesn't take away your rights; you don't have to do business with the city.''

tyfMayor Bloomberg, who spent $73 million of his own money to finance his election campaign in 2001, has been critical of aspects of the city's campaign finance system, but this was the first time that he called for an outright ban on contributions from individuals or companies because of perceived conflicts of interest.

''The biggest problem is that anybody that deals with the city shouldn't be giving to the mayor's campaign,'' he said. ''Anybody that deals with the city shouldn't be giving money to a comptroller's campaign -- who oversees contracts. You just should not do that. The law does not prevent it and we should have a law that prevents it.''

The mayor's comments came two days after a report by City Clerk Victor L. Robles found that City Hall lobbyists had earned a record amount, $24.8 million, to press their various causes and issues last year. The Parkside Group, which has ties to City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, was ranked 6th on the Top 10 list of city lobbyists, with a reported income of more than $1 million last year.
Mr. Miller, who is expected to run for mayor in 2005, has also sought help from Harry E. Giannoulis, a partner in the Parkside Group, to fill a crucial position -- that of the speaker's chief of staff.

David K. Chai, a spokesman for Mr. Miller, said that the speaker would support a law prohibiting contributions from individuals and companies that do business with the city as long as the mayor ''agreed to participate in the city's campaign finance system and pledged not to spend $70-plus million of his own money to buy the mayor's race again.''

Mr. Chai asserted that the mayor was being hypocritical by trying to change a campaign finance system that he does not have to participate in. ''The fact of the matter is that it's the mayor and his Republican Party that's destroying our campaign finance system,'' he said.

William T. Cunningham, the mayor's director of communications, rejected that charge. ''Gifford Miller endorsed Howard Dean, who was the first Democrat to drop out of the campaign finance system in this country,'' he said. ''Two, he is now supporting John Kerry, who is also not participating in that system. It is very convenient of them to pick and choose who is being a hypocrite.''
Mayor Bloomberg also said yesterday that city employees should not receive compensatory time or be able to work flexible hours in return for attending campaign events.

The Daily News reported Friday that the office of City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. had told employees they might be eligible for time off if they accompanied Mr. Thompson, who is also considering a mayoral run, at parades and other events on a volunteer basis." - New York Times, May 22, 2004

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Miller Fund-Raiser's Ties to Lobbyist Raise Eyebrows With Watchdogs

New York Sun, May 19, 2004 By DAVID ANDREATTA

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's fund-raising effort operated for 15 months in an office in the same lobbying firm that reportedly has advised him on selecting a new chief of staff.

The executive director of Miller for New York, Lisa Esler, rented an office from the Parkside Group since February 2003 before relocating to another floor in the same Nassau Street building three weeks ago.

Ms. Esler and aides to Mr. Miller said the space was rented by her consulting firm, The Esler Group, and not the campaign, although Miller for New York is paying for the new office, the aides and Ms. Esler said.

That a fund-raiser for a potential mayoral candidate - Mr. Miller has yet to declare his intentions for 2005 - shared an office with a firm that acknowledges directly lobbying the speaker raised eyebrows with government watchdogs.

"Without saying there is anything illegal or improper about it, my advice to any elected official would be to not have your fund-raiser physically working out of the office of someone who is lobbying City Hall," said Gene Russianoff, a registered lobbyist and staff attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government group.

The relationship between the speaker and the Parkside Group was the focus of a report in yesterday's New York Times that suggested Mr. Miller is seeking advice from the firm's partner, Harry Giannoulis, in choosing a new chief of staff.
The Parkside Group is one of the city's up-and-coming lobbying and political consulting firms. Its clients include Telebeam Telecommunications Corp., which owns payphones through out the five boroughs, and others that contract with the city.
According to city Campaign Finance Board records, the Parkside Group has contributed $4,950 to Mr. Miller's campaign.

In addition, Mr. Giannoulis donated $2,000 on his own, records show.
Ms. Esler acknowledged having solicited the Parkside Group for contributions but added that the firm is one of thousands of potential contributors she has turned to for support.

Asked if she believed it was appropriate for a fund-raiser to run an operation from the office of a lobbyist, Ms. Esler said: "This is not a matter of opinion. What matters is that Miller for New York is in full compliance with the Campaign Finance Board's rules and regulations."

Mr. Miller's office said yesterday that Ms. Esler was entitled to choose her own location since the office was doubling as the headquarters of The Esler Group and not the speaker's campaign.

"She's a fund-raising consultant for the speaker. Where she rented space to do her work is not our business," said Stephen Sigmund, Mr. Miller's director of communication. "She rents space to do her work where she chooses."

None of the partners at the Parkside Group could be reached for comment.
Cozy relationships between lobbyists, candidates, and their fund-raisers are not altogether uncommon in New York City politics.

Lobbyist and political consultant Suri Kasirer is actively raising money for Comptroller William Thompson Jr., also a potential mayoral candidate, as well as Mr. Miller.

A former Bronx Borough president, Fernando Ferrer, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have tapped the lobbying and consulting firm of Mirram Global for help with their fund-raising.