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Committee Backing Cuomo Registers as Lobbying Group

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A business and real estate group that has been running promotional ads for Governor Andrew Cuomo will now register as a lobbying group with the state’s ethics panel, after questions were raised about some of their activities.

The Committee to Save New York, formed by business leaders including the state’s Business Council and the New York City Partnership, and real estate interests, has been airing ads, promoting Cuomo’s fiscally conservative agenda of no new taxes or spending.

“With your help we can repair Albany’s broken finances,” a narrator intones.

The group is organized as a not for profit, which under the rules, does not have to disclose donors. As long as it’s not actively endorsing specific legislation, it also does not have to register as a lobbying entity with the state ethics panel. But government reform groups questioned that status.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the committee, is raising and spending millions of dollars with the intent of promoting the specifics of the governor’s agenda. It’s Web site provides a link to e-mail state legislators, and it’s even hired a lobbyist.

“If you walk like a duck and you quack like a duck, it’s a duck,” said Horner.

Hours later, the committee announced it would register as a lobbying entity with the Public Integrity Commission, quelling further negative publicity, which included a front page article in the New York Times, questioning some of the group’s activities.

Horner, with NYPIRG, sadi the state ethics panel should investigate whether the committee has violated the lobbying law in its actions up until now.

By encouraging the formation of the Committee to Save New York, Cuomo is trying to avoid the predicament of previous governors, including George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer. Both proposed spending cuts to education and health care to close budget shortfalls. But interest groups, including a coalition of hospitals and the healthcare workers union, responded with multi-million dollar television ad campaigns castigating lawmakers and warning of dire consequences, like emergency room closures, if the cuts were adopted. As a result, Pataki and Spitzer saw their popularity plummet, and they eventually gave in and rescinded the cuts.

Steve Greenberg, a pollster with Siena College and a political analyst, said Cuomo had to do something to counteract what happened to previous governors, and is attempting to change the “equation.”

But, he said Cuomo, by associating himself with the business and real estate groups, takes a risk. Businesses have all sorts of interests before state government, including taxes and regulations. The real estate industry has a stake in New York City’s rent regulation laws, which are up for renewal later this year.  

“The governor runs the risk of being called hypocritical because he has talked about transparency and full disclosure,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo may also use some of his own political campaign money to run counter ads should negative TV spots from interest groups materialize.  According to his most recent campaign filing, released January 15, Cuomo has more than $4 million in his campaign war chest.
 
Cuomo did not comment on the Committee to Save New York’s decision to register as a lobbying group with the state ethics panel. He did, though, announce new appointees to the Commission on Public Integrity including Richard Bartlett, a former judge and Dean at Albany Law School, now a partner in a Glens Falls law firm, and Mitra Hormozi, who worked under Cuomo in the Attorney General’s Public Integrity unit, and who formerly was an assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting mafia crime.

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