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Lobbying commission downplays enforcement of new regulatory law

Lobbyists engaged in the secretive business of influencing the multibillion-dollar state procurement process will be given a break from enforcement for the next year, despite the imminent enactment of a new sunshine law to rein in the much-criticized lobbying practices.

State lobbying officials said Wednesday they will concentrate on educating lobbyists about the new law, rather than enforcing its provisions that were supposed to, as of Jan. 1, require procurement lobbyists to disclose their activities in trying to win lucrative state contracts.

The law, hailed in June as one of the major reform efforts in years, says nothing about phasing in the law.

The decision was sharply criticized by one lawmaker, who said legislators did not envision the law kicking in 18 months after they approved it last June.

"The Legislature clearly did not intend that this corrupt system should survive another 18 months," said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester County Democrat.

But David Grandeau, executive director of the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, said it will take time for his agency to educate lobbyists about the new law. He asked the agency's board for "extreme discretion" in enforcing the law over the next year.

Grandeau said that while the law does apply, the "focus will be on education." He said instances of "major" violations, such as lobbyists providing gifts to state officials involved in contract dealings, will be enforced, but that lobbyists won't have to worry about such things as timely filings of disclosure documents; such disclosure is at the heart of the new law's provisions.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Thursday Grandeau should resign if he delays enforcement of the law.

"Mr. Grandeau's decision to ignore statutory violations is unconscionable," Spitzer said. "If he doesn't want to enforce the lobbying law, he should resign so that the commission can hire someone who will."

Spitzer said the law is critical "in reducing the pernicious and corrupting influences on the state contracting process."

Grandeau responded: "The attorney general's statement that I should resign is precisely the type of naked political aggression that an effective ethics agency leader needs to be insulated from to perform the functions of the office. I would challenge Mr. Spitzer to find any credible group that would say I have not been aggressive in my enforcement of the lobbying act."

The decision to delay enforcement means that lobbying state agencies could go unchecked during Gov. George E. Pataki's last year in office. A number of high profile instances of influential lobbyists getting agency contracts helped propel the new lobbying reform.

"We expect the lobbying commission to enforce the law," said Kevin Quinn, a Pataki spokesman.

Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the matter was being looked into. "Clearly, we are very concerned about the enforcement of a law [that is] clearly needed," Carrier said.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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