Charter Lobbyists Disclose Some Spending

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The group that's been running television ads for the past few weeks promoting charter schools disclosed spending $115,767, even though the ads cost much more money. The expenses, which include lobbying in January and February, were filed with the state and were first reported by Capital New York.

Families for Excellent Schools said the dollar figure it disclosed falls short of the actual advertising costs because it ran two different types of ads. It claimed earlier ads that aired in February were educational and not an attempt to influence legislation. However, it said expenses on more recent ads urging the state to take action after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blocked three Success Academy charter schools from opening may be included in its next filing, due in May. 

"Ads that aired after February 28, which could constitute city executive branch lobbying and potentially state legislative lobbying, will be reported in our next filing," said the group's executive director, Jeremiah Kittredge.

But a group that supports the mayor's education agenda wasn't buying it. "This multi-million dollar ad campaign was clearly intended to influence the state budget and the lawmakers in Albany," said Dan Morris, a spokesman for the Alliance for Quality Education.

Families for Excellent Schools also claimed it was not required to disclose how much money it spent in February planning a rally in Albany on March 4, which included thousands of parents bused from New York City and an appearance by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"At the time of the rally on March 4, there was no resolution, legislation, executive order, or bill to lobby the State Legislature on," Kittredge explained. "Our counsel advised, considered, and approved that the entirety of the March 4th event did not constitute any kind of lobbying activity."

Blair Horner, Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, was skeptical of this explanation. "You don't bus people up to Albany for fun and you don't have it on the steps of the Capitol unless you're trying to influence lawmakers," he said.

However, he said it was ultimately up to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics to decide if there was any breach.