LI lobbying activity, spending on the rise

President of Nassau Off Track Betting Joseph Cairo

President of Nassau Off Track Betting Joseph Cairo in his office. (July 22, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

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ALBANY - The flow of money to Long Island lobbyists or those with deep local ties is on the increase.

State data show that more than 20 local companies or individuals are lobbying in the capital.

Collectively, they were paid about $7.6 million in fees last year, according to statements filed with the state Commission on Public Integrity, which oversees compliance with state ethics and lobbying laws. That's an almost 9 percent increase from 2009.

The rise comes as more institutions across New York State -- trade groups, municipalities, unions and even cemeteries -- seek to boost their profiles and protect their interests.

So much is decided in the chambers of the State Capitol that these entities are convinced that they -- or, increasingly, their hired representatives -- have to be here, said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, a government watchdog group.

"Much in the same way people don't feel comfortable going into court without a lawyer, they don't feel comfortable going into Albany without a lobbyist," Dadey said. "That's a huge shift over the last five to 10 years. People feel that if your interests are to be taken seriously, they have to have representation."

While the public integrity commission doesn't keep regional tallies, lobbyists said anecdotally that the number of firms with strong Long Island ties may be at an all-time high.

"There are certainly more [Long Island] lobbyists than there used to be," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, the state-assemblyman-turned-lobbyist who heads Empire Government Strategies. "It used to be confined to three or four firms. Now, there are more firms and there are more individuals who are out there. My sense is that it's probably doubled from what it was five years ago."

In 2010, more than 70 Island entities spent almost $5.7 million on lobbyists.

Statewide, spending on lobbying more than tripled over the last decade, from $66 million in 2000 to $210 million last year. The number of registered lobbyists also hit an all-time high of 6,659.

The bulk of the money goes to Albany-based firms, with New York City-based companies running second. Long Island companies or individuals with Long Island ties come in a distant third place.

 

Island lobbyists

Park Strategies, the Manhattan-based firm of former Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, of Lido Beach, had $2.3 million in billings in 2010. D'Amato declined to be interviewed for this article.

Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein ranked second among companies with local ties, billing more than $1.2 million. The law firm has offices in Garden City, Albany, Manhattan and Washington.

"Lobbyists always are either being offensive or defensive," said Kevin Law, president and chief executive of the Long Island Association. "Half are looking to make changes and half are trying to block changes."

Park Strategies' biggest client last year was Madison County, N.Y., which spent $300,000 for lobbying on cigarette tax issues, the state budget and monitoring of state negotiations with Indian tribes. Energy companies NRG, Enlink and Covanta paid Park Strategies $120,000 each. Nassau OTB paid the firm $96,000.

Nassau Off Track Betting spent $169,000 for lobbying by Park Strategies and other companies, said OTB president Joseph Cairo.

"Everybody who participates in the horse industry has someone at the table representing them," Cairo said. "NYRA [New York Racing Association], the horseman, they've all got lobbyists. We thought we'd benefit by having someone there on a daily basis representing us."

Robert Ungar & Associates of Garden City ranked No. 3 among local firms with $682,000 in earnings. Clients included the Building Contractors' Association ($114,000), the Uniformed Firefighters Association ($90,000) and the Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Local 2507 ($72,000).

Gotham Government Relations, a Roslyn-based firm headed by Bradley Gerstman, David Schwartz and William Driscoll, ranked No. 4 with $664,000 in revenues. Its biggest clients included insurers Allstate ($60,000) and GEICO ($60,000) and the Tobacconist Association ($55,000).

Empire Government Strategies/Island Strategies, Kremer's firm, saw growth in its second year in business. The firm recorded $430,000 in earnings -- up from $284,000 the year before -- from Canon, Caithness, the Bowling Proprietors Association and others.

Empire is listed as an "independent arm" of the Uniondale-based law firm of Ruskin, Moscou, Faltisheck -- the firm that employs Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Skelos has said he is not involved with Empire. Kremer served as a state assemblyman from 1966 to 1990.

 

The clients

The biggest spending company with Long Island ties was Cablevision, which reported spending $1 million on 11 lobbyists. Its affiliate, Madison Square Garden Lp, spent $368,000. Cablevision is the parent company of Newsday.

"As one of New York and Long Island's leading employers," Cablevision spokeswoman Kim Kerns said in a statement, "it should come as a surprise to no one that we incur lobbying expenses as virtually all major New York companies do."

Even with $1 million in spending, Cablevision didn't finish in the top 10 spenders statewide. The American Beverage Association easily topped the list by spending $12.9 million to fight attempts to tax sugary drinks.

Other Long Island entities with big lobbying budgets last year were:

The Shinnecock Nation Gaming Authority, which spent $356,000, including $35,000 for a private poll.

Northrop Grumman spent $258,000, mostly on retained lobbyists, though it also lobbied issues regarding taxi technology.

Stony Brook University Foundation, rounding out the top five, spent $206,000.

Nassau Community College spent $109,000 on issues including the state budget, the state construction fund and local ordinances.

Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale spent $97,000 to retain a lobbyist to oppose a bill to mandate that cemetery corporations provide customers with a "bill of rights." Neither the Senate nor the Assembly passed the measure.

Canon U.S.A. spent $121,000, most of it with Empire Government Strategies. According to reports filed with the state, Canon's lobbying centered on economic-development grants, empire zone certification and electronic waste legislation. "Canon U.S.A. utilizes the services of lobbyists to keep abreast of state government issues that may impact our company and our employees," Seymour Liebman, Canon executive vice president, said in a statement.

The Unkechaug Nation, located in Mastic, spent $90,000 fighting the state's efforts to collect sales taxes on cigarettes sold on reservation land to non-Indians.

The Great Neck Water Pollution Control District spent $60,000 lobbying the state Department of Environmental Conservation on various water regulations.

The Bethpage Federal Credit Union spent $36,000 on tax and finance legislation.

 

Long Island's biggest lobbyists*

1. Park Strategies: $2.3 million

2. Robert Ungar Associates: $674,000

3. Gotham Government Relations: $664,000

4. Empire Government Strategies/Island Strategies: $430,000

5. Salvatore Salamone: $330,000

6. Ohrenstein & Brown: $265,000

7. State Advisers: $250,000

8. Mark Lieberman: $223,000

9. William Schnell & Associates: $186,000

10. John Corlett: $145,000

 

Long Island's biggest spenders on lobbying*

1. Cablevision (which owns Newsday): $1 million

2. Shinnecock Nation Gaming Authority: $350,000

3. Northrop Grumman: $258,000

4. Stony Brook University Foundation: $206,000

5. Nassau OTB: $169,000

6. Citizens Campaign for the Environment: $161,000

7. Arker Development: $135,000

8. Canon U.S.A. and Northshore LIJ (tied): $121,000

*Includes companies based on or with ties to Long Island

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