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Cuomo budget to lobbyists: Be respectful, or face sanctions

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the State Capitol

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the State Capitol on Feb. 11. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants lobbyists including good-government advocates to act respectfully when dealing with government officials, or face sanctions by the state board appointed by those officials.

Tucked away on Page 156 of the governor’s Good Government and Ethics Reform Article VII Legislation is a proposed code of conduct for lobbyists. It includes: “A lobbyist shall act in a manner that is respectful to his or her clients and to the government institutions that he or she interacts with.”

“It reads like something written by Big Brother,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, referencing the authoritarian government in George Orwell's novel “1984.” “I think that when we talk about respect, we need the government officials to respect the people they represent, not by trying to limit people’s free speech rights”

If approved in the budget, the requirement could be enforced at often-contentious gatherings of grassroots supporters in demonstrations on issues including corruption in government, abortion, gun control, marijuana legalization and school aid, lobbyists said.

An administration official said the measure isn’t likely to pass as part of the budget, which is due by Monday.

There’s no more detail in the proposed legislation on what would or wouldn’t be respectful or if public demonstrations, which are legally considered lobbying, would be excluded. The bill would authorize the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, headed by appointees of the governor and legislative leaders, to draw up regulations and enforce the provision.

“It could have a chilling effect on free speech,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It’s not the government’s role to decide who is respectful and who is not.”

The League of Women Voters, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Citizens Union and the Lawyers Alliance for New York signed a letter last week in opposition to the proposal with Common Cause to state officials.

One of Cuomo’s related proposals would make the rule subject to even more grassroots groups, such as those that have protested property taxes and utility rate increases. That proposal would make all groups spending at least $500 on lobbying register as lobbyists and be subject to detailed record filing. The current threshold applies only to lobbyists spending at least $5,000.

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