Share this article

print logo


A state regulatory commission is seeking a broader definition of lobbying to provide more openness on influences on state officials.

The regulators also call for eliminating limits on lobbyists' gifts for public officials.

The proposals by the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying aim to reform the state's approach to everyday operations, particularly since dysfunction in Albany became such a prominent theme in the November elections.

Two state lawmakers took the reform efforts to a new level Monday, threatening to sue legislative leaders and Gov. George E. Pataki if minority party legislators do not quickly get a greater voice.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a liberal Democrat from Manhattan, and Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan, a conservative Republican from Orange County, said the system now disenfranchises millions of New Yorkers represented by minority party legislators who have no say over legislation or policy issues.

Several top lobbyists, however, said the reform proposals would force thousands of people to call themselves lobbyists simply because of routine appearances before state agencies.

Government watchdog groups and State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, meanwhile, described the proposed change in lobbyist gift limits as a dangerous move that only would encourage more offers of free trips and other goodies to state officials.

At a hearing Monday in Albany, David Grandeau, the commission's executive director, called for eliminating the $75 ceiling on how much lobbyists can offer or give to lawmakers.

Instead, all gifts, no matter the amount, would have to be disclosed, which, he insisted, would be more effective than a monetary limit in discouraging gifts.

"The public wants to know who's giving the gifts and who's getting the gifts," Grandeau said.

But critics argued that the $75 threshold applies to individual gifts, not an annual total. So a lobbyist could give an official something worth $74 every day of the year without violating the limit.

"We don't think lobbyists should be giving gifts to lawmakers -- end of story," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

NYPIRG noted Monday that 30 states have more restrictive lobbyist gift bans than New York, and 19 require lobbyist to divulge personal business dealings with state officials.

"Simply stated, that is one of the most counterproductive proposals I have ever heard," Spitzer said of the gift proposal, adding that the public wants "existing practices reformed, not exacerbated."

Lobbyists have stayed largely under the radar as reform groups stepped up efforts to change how they do business. But Monday, a handful of lobbyists fought back.

One proposal, which Grandeau calls the lobbyist "death penalty," would ban lobbyists or clients who violate regulations, such as filing timely disclosure reports, from doing business in the Capitol for four years.

James Featherstonhaugh, a prominent lobbyist, said such a plan would violate free speech protections. He branded the idea "outrageous, unconstitutional and dangerous."

Krueger and Kirwan seek to change several long-standing Albany practices, such as majority party legislators excluding those from the minority party from pork barrel.

They also call for ending secret votes in closed-door party conferences on issues before they reach the floor for a formal vote.

Kirwan said that, despite the reform talk, legislative leaders aren't interested in true reform. "We're going to have to wrest it from them," he said.


There are no comments - be the first to comment