By MIKE McINTIRE - The New York Times - February 3, 2006
More political consultants in New York have taken on the second role of lobbyists over the last five years, prompting good-government advocates to press the city's ethics board to revive attempts to regulate the practice.
An analysis by Citizens Union, a nonprofit policy group, shows that half of the top 10 consultant-lobbyists last year earned no money from lobbying in 2001, but gradually adopted the practice, sometimes lobbying the same public officials they helped elect. Altogether, those 10 firms earned $32 million from lobbying and consulting from 2002 to 2005, according to the analysis, which the group intends to present today to the Conflicts of Interest Board.
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the growing trend underscored the need for the city to strengthen its lobbying laws. He said elected officials who pay consultant-lobbyists for their advice, and then encounter them in their role as lobbyists, face potential ethical dilemmas.
"When a consultant recommends to the candidate that the candidate take a position on a particular issue, how impartial is that advice?" said Mr. Dadey. "When a campaign consultant invoices his candidate, but is also working for a lobbying client, will the consultant discount the bill because the consultant knows there may be greater access in the future to the candidate if elected?"
The board has scheduled a public hearing on the issue at 9 a.m. today at New York Law School. It held an earlier hearing on the same topic last Friday.
The hearings are the board's latest attempt to wrestle with the issue of consultant-lobbyists. Last year, it issued a memo saying consultants hired by public officials "may not lobby or in any other way communicate" with those officials on behalf of private clients.
The board quickly rescinded the memo after some of the firms threatened to file a lawsuit, saying the prohibition infringed on their constitutional right to free speech. Now, the board is collecting opinions from all sides on whether it should try again.
At last week's hearing, E. Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer for a group of lobbyist-consultants, said "the sort of regulation the board is considering is beyond the limited power that the City Charter bestows on the board," and that even if it did have the power, any such regulation would be unconstitutional.