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Cuomo minimum wage push blurs lobbying line, advocates say

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s effort to pressure the Senate to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour appears to include promoting the effort of a registered lobbyist on the state website, which good-government advocates said inappropriately blurs the line between governing and lobbying.

The state Web page includes a link to a photo of the governor surrounded by union members and text urging New Yorkers to “Join the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice to give every New Yorker a chance.” The Web page says the need to help those fighting poverty is why “we created the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.”

The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice Inc. is a registered lobbyist that operates from the same Manhattan address as a major labor union, as well as the name of the effort that has included statewide appearances by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The lobbying group works with Cuomo and is run by and funded by labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union. Those unions seek legislation in Albany such as the higher minimum wage for their members and are major campaign contributors to Cuomo and lawmakers, state records show.

“It is really problematic to have no separation between government and outside entities that are funded by organizations that want something from government,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY. “No matter how admirable the governor’s support of a public policy may be, it should be government support.”

“This raises a number of issues,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This is blurring the distinction between government activity and lobbying activity, and creates, I believe, confusion with the public. . . . They could believe this is part of government.”

A Cuomo spokesman said the governor used the name of the campaign on the state website months before the group registered as a lobbyist.

“We are in full compliance with existing guidelines,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

Cuomo faces opposition on raising the minimum wage from the Senate’s Republican majority, which argues that the jump from the current $9 wage, which was effective Jan. 1, to $15 will result in job losses and worsen New York’s image as bad for business operators.

There was no immediate comment from the Senate’s Republican majority. The Assembly’s Democratic majority has long supported raising the minimum wage.

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