Nassau Community College in Garden City.

Nassau Community College in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Lobbyist told not to lobby

Nassau Community College first hired its lobbying firm, Shenker Russo & Clark, LLP, last year for a one-year term, paying the firm $5,000 a month. The initial agreement said the firm would “focus its efforts on the State budget and any other general legislation as it affects the College for the purpose of improving the educational experience for the students and the College Community …”

Earlier this year, the college extended the contract for an additional year, at the same $5,000-a-month rate.

But New York State lobbying records indicate that Albany-based Shenker Russo & Clark’s task was expanded to include lobbying on the college’s behalf on three topics: Education — General, Education — Funding, and Gaming — Casinos.

Nassau Community College has been a staunch supporter of efforts by Las Vegas Sands to bring a casino to the nearby Nassau Hub. College spokesman Jerry Kornbluth has spoken positively about the impact of the project at hearings and other events. And the college has an agreement with Sands to make the school the primary employee training center for casino workers.

But is the college actually paying a firm to lobby the state to give one of three available casino licenses to Sands?

For context, Nassau Community College faces a multimillion-dollar deficit, which recently led officials to consolidate academic departments and end an arrangement with the school’s food service vendor, leaving students without campus eateries.

But Kornbluth told The Point there was no specific agreement with Shenker Russo & Clark to lobby on casino issues.

“We have not asked them to lobby anyone in state government as it relates to Nassau Community College and casino gambling,” Kornbluth said. “I do not believe they are doing any lobbying on behalf of the college as it relates to the casino. The Sands is doing their own lobbying.”

Then why do state records say that’s one of the lobbyist's key subject areas?

Kornbluth told The Point early on Tuesday that he had initially told the lobbying firm’s representatives that the college was hoping two major initiatives — the Sands effort and plans to build an NYU Langone medical facility on campus — would “drive revenue to the college.”

“I had mentioned that if those two initiatives come through … that would help fund the college and that would help the budget situation,” Kornbluth said. “If the license went to the Sands, I think [Shenker Russo & Clark] could be helpful in getting us grants to train workers as Nassau Community College would be the training hub.”

That conversation, Kornbluth said, may have led the lobbying firm to add casino lobbying to its duties. But by later Tuesday, Kornbluth said he clarified with the firm that casino lobbying would not be included in their efforts, adding that he expected that category would be removed from the state’s lobbying records.

Shenker Russo & Clark lists 14 individual lobbyists who might work on behalf of Nassau Community College. Among them: Michael Trunzo, son of Caesar Trunzo, the late longtime state senator and Islip Town Republican leader.

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

No kidding

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Final Point

Matching campaign funds — but not for everyone

This week, New York’s Public Campaign Finance Board issued its first disbursements for the state’s first year of providing public matching funds to state legislative candidates — and multiple Long Island candidates benefited.

So far, approximately three dozen candidates statewide have met the requirements to receive public funding under the state’s new campaign matching funds program, which provides them with varying amounts for their State Senate and Assembly races. Primary candidates in competitive races for the State Senate can receive up to $375,000, while Assembly primary candidates have a match limit of $175,000. Candidates can receive matching funds on individual campaign contributions up to $250 each from individuals who live within the Assembly or Senate district, with the match based on a tiered system that ultimately allows those who raise more to receive a higher public match.

Topping the list of disbursements for Long Island is Siela Bynoe, a Nassau County lawmaker now running for the hotly contested State Senate’s 6th District seat. Bynoe is running against Assemb. Taylor Darling in the Democratic primary for the seat now held by Democrat Kevin Thomas, who isn't seeking reelection. According to the Public Campaign Finance Board, Bynoe qualified to receive $352,218 in public matching funds — by far the top amount of any candidate. Darling received $136,731 in matching funds.

The Point has learned that another candidate, State Senate 7th District contender Kim Keiserman, qualified for the maximum $375,000 but Keiserman can only receive 25% of that match as of now — $93,750 — because primary opponent Brad Schwartz has not been deemed “competitive” by the state Board of Elections. Schwartz hasn't met the guidelines to qualify for public matching funds, but that’s not the only factor. The Board of Elections has a variety of requirements to consider a candidate “competitive,” including whether the candidate has received major endorsements from other elected officials or membership organizations.

Sources said that aspect of the program leaves open ways to game the system. Candidates could, it seems, decline actual endorsements, while still informally taking photos with or accepting donations from key supporters, in an effort to make sure their opponent can’t get the full match although no one is directly saying that is Schwartz’s intent.

Bynoe, meanwhile, told The Point that she actually has enough donations to max out on the $375,000 in matching funds — but won’t receive the rest until some required fixes to addresses or other details are made

“It wasn’t a new endeavor for me to go to local folks and ask for their support, because I had been doing that before,” Bynoe said. “But this program absolutely made it easier to raise the money and it took away the heavy burden of raising the money without the match funds.”

Both Democrats competing in Long Island’s 4th District Assembly primary — Skyler Johnson and Rebecca Kassay — received matching funds, as did Lisa Ortiz, who is running for Darling’s seat in the 18th Assembly district. Kassay racked up $106,216.08, while Johnson received $76,795 in matching funds. Ortiz, who is running against Noah Burroughs in the primary, received $43,750.

The only other Long Island state legislative primary will take place for Democrats in the 21st Assembly District, where neither Judy Griffin nor Pat Maher qualified for matching funds as of now, according to state records.

— Randi F. Marshall

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