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.

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