The New York State Capitol in Albany on Feb. 25.

The New York State Capitol in Albany on Feb. 25. Credit: Newsday / William Perlman

ALBANY — Lobbyists spent a record $360 million to try to influence 213 state legislators as well as Gov. Kathy Hochul and her executive branch in 2023, according to data released Tuesday.

Spending by lobbyists rose nearly 9% last year, compared with $330 million in 2022, the data found.

The biggest clients included those who pushed for more health care spending and real estate interests. Other big spenders included gambling interests as the state decides where to place casinos in the New York City-Long Island area and fossil fuel producers that successfully opposed some climate change measures.

“There’s less democracy and there are more private messengers,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a 40-year veteran political strategist. His Sheinkopf Communications serves politicians and interest groups in the public and private sectors. “It’s more competitive with fewer people who have been gaining access and getting more business.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Lobbyists spent a record $360 million to try to influence state government, according to data released Tuesday.
  • Spending by lobbyists rose nearly 9% last year, compared with $330 million in 2022, the data found.
  • The biggest clients included those who pushed for more health care spending and real estate interests.

The report by the state Commission on Lobbying and Ethics in Government found 4,402 lobbyists registered to lobby Hochul, who controls much of the state budget process. That’s 35% more lobbyists focusing on Hochul than in 2022.

Data showed:

  • The number of registered lobbyists increased to 6,224, up 1.2%.
  • The number clients decreased by 5.9% to 4,744.
  • 48.2% of lobbyists focused solely on state activities in 2023, up from 47.7% in 2022.
  • Of the total number of lobbyists, 42% said they lobbied the state as well as some local governments representing populations of more than 5,000 people.

Some of the increase in total spending and number of lobbyists reflects regulations over recent years to capture more of the “small army” of public relations and grassroots workers behind a lobbying campaign, said James D. Featherstonhaugh of the Albany lobbying firm Featherstonhaugh Clyne & McArdle.

Featherstonhaugh said lobbying works and not just for wealthy interests. He cited the community organizers and grassroots groups that regularly line the Capitol halls advocating for issues including environmental protection and a law to allow medical assistance in dying for people who are terminally ill.

“I would go so far as to say [lobbying] is vital to our democracy because it’s really where an exchange of positions and ideas takes place that is immediate and proximate to the decision makers themselves,” Featherstonhaugh told Newsday. “So, they get to hear everything.”

The report stated that 76% of lobbyists reported they directly engaged government officials, while less than 1% engaged only in grassroots lobbying. About 23% said they did both.

The biggest spending clients were:

  • 1199SEIU, a statewide labor union, at $8.1 million.
  • American Opportunity at $4.7 million, a group partly funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group lobbied on the state budget, criminal justice issues, economic development, real estate, taxes and to bolster Hochul’s initiatives in TV commercials.
  • The Greater New York Hospital Association at $4.7 million.
  • Genting New York, a gambling interest at $2.8 million.
  • StudentsFirst New York Advocacy at $2.6 million, supporting charter schools.
  • Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund at $2.5 million, to fight youth smoking.
  • Siebert Williams Shank & Co. at $1.6 million to lobby on financial services, affordable housing projects and economic development.
  • The New York State Trial Lawyers Association at $1.4 million to lobby for defense lawyers who try civil lawsuits.
  • AARP at $1.4 million to advocate for consumers and older New Yorkers.
  • The Public Employees Federation, a statewide union, at $1.3 million.

Many of the top lobbyists are also among New York’s biggest political campaign contributors, according to state Board of Elections records.

Lobbyists have turned more to advertising to try to drum up public support or put pressure on lawmakers. Lobbyists spent $24.4 million on advertising in 2023, with $11.4 million of that spent on television commercials and print and online ads. That compares with $17.9 million spent in 2022, of which $6.5 million was spent on multiple platforms including TV.

“This incredible spending reflects the power of money in policymaking,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The public should closely monitor interest groups' spending and not get bamboozled by the high-priced media campaigns too often designed to block initiatives that benefit the public.”

The biggest spenders on advertising included 1199SEIU, which spent $5.2 million as some of its members negotiated new labor contracts with the state; American Opportunity, which spent $4 million, and the Propane Gas Association, which spent $389,750 as the state seeks to transition to renewable energy sources.

“Lobbying works,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group. “As New York's ginormous state government spends, taxes and regulates more, it becomes more worthwhile for interest groups to spend more on lobbying.”

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