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Nassau lawmakers propose dueling lobbying laws

Adam Skelos stands outside his home in Rockville

Adam Skelos stands outside his home in Rockville Centre, Thursday, April 16, 2015. Adam and his father Dean Skelos are being federally investigated. Credit: Steve Pfost

Nassau leaders are dealing with the fallout of a federal investigation into business dealings of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son by proposing dueling measures that would force disclosure of all lobbying activity in the county.

Legislation introduced late Monday by Republican County Executive Edward Mangano requires lobbyists to register annually with the county and report quarterly about the scope of their work -- including the identities of their clients and the officials they lobby, their compensation and the issues they were paid to influence. The information would be posted on the county's website.

"The public should be confident that this bill will bring a heightened level of transparency to the lobbying process," Mangano said in an interview.

The county currently has no laws requiring any kind of lobbyist disclosure, and Mangano's bill is likely to be considered soon by the GOP-controlled county legislature. But legislative Democrats say it doesn't go far enough, filing their own bill yesterday that would force a more-detailed disclosure of lobbying activity for each individual contract.

Rather than a registry, the Democratic bill would create disclosure statements for contracts that would name all of the people working on behalf of contractors and would detail every type of communication they have with county officials.

"We need to go 10 steps further," Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said of the administration's bill. "Theirs is window dressing. Our process opens up the window completely."

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the majority would "carefully review each proposal."

The dueling bills come less than a week after news reports that Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), and his son, Adam, were under investigation by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District.

Bharara is reportedly probing a $12 million county contract awarded in 2013 to AbTech Industries, an Arizona environmental firm that hired Adam Skelos as a consultant.

Adam Skelos introduced county public works employees to AbTech, a source has said. County lawmakers who approved the contract said they were unaware of Adam Skelos' connection to the firm.

While AbTech submitted a higher cost estimate than one of the other two bidders, public works officials' "professional judgment" deemed it the most-qualified and best-valued firm.

Lobbyists are already required to register and report many of the details in Nassau's bills to the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, but Adam Skelos is not on that list. The state requires disclosure only from registered lobbyists.

Mangano's bill defines lobbying to include "any attempt to influence" lawmakers and officials -- including agency heads, committees and commissions -- on county issues, even if the individual is not registered with the state, he said.

Blair Horner, legislative director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the measure should make it easier for Nassau residents to know who is working behind the scenes to shape legislation, secure appointments and win contracts. "Nassau residents would have a keener sense of what is being spent to influence decision-makers," he said.

Horner said, however, that Mangano's proposal may continue what many consider a loophole in state lobbying law that doesn't include introduction of a client to a legislator.

"I can't say if it would have impacted Adam Skelos," Horner said of the legislation.

"If he was involved in local lobbying, that is clearly under the current jurisdiction of JCOPE and they should look into it," he said.

JCOPE enforces the state Lobbying Act, which applies to state as well as local lobbying. But localities such as New York City and Suffolk County have, in addition, separately regulated lobbying within their municipality. Mangano's legislation would require lobbyists earning at least $1,000 in compensation and expenses to register annually with the county attorney's office at a cost of $200.

Lobbyists who violate Nassau's law would face up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $5,000.

With Michael Gormley

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