Bill’s for Sale
increasing amount of cash spent to influence legislation in
New York state prompts calls for lobbying reform
privilege-seekers of yore were known to frequent the lobbies
and hallways outside of the Capitol’s legislative chambers
to curry favor with legislators—hence the term “lobbying”—their
modern-day counterparts are increasingly recognized for the
amount of money they spend influencing elected officials.
And in New York, the figure continues to rise.
The New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying released
its annual report last week, stating that lobby groups spent
approximately $92 million in 2002 to influence legislators’
bill-related decisions. The amount spent last year was double
the amount spent just five years ago on lobbying activities,
which can range from purchasing airtime for advertisements
to organizing public rallies to taking legislators out for
The largest single spender in 2002 was United Federation of
Teachers, which spent approximately $2.8 million. The union
represents 125,000 teachers and educational workers throughout
the state of New York. The second largest spender was also
a teacher’s union, New York State United Teachers, which reported
just under $2 million in lobbying activities last year. The
New York Yankees, however, purchased the largest single lobbying
According to the commission’s report, Yankee Entertainment
& Sports Network paid the lobbying group Global Strategy
$693,517 to influence legislators’ decisions regarding the
team’s cable television contract. Another group related to
the Bronx Bombers, Yankee Partnership (NY), also kicked down
$184,153, the report said.
While the total amount spent on lobbying may seem significant
by itself, one of the Lobbying Commission’s legislative recommendations
is to expand the definition of what classifies as lobbying—a
reform supported by a number of public interest groups.
only lobbying that is currently required to be reported by
law is lobbying on legislative activity, bill legislation,”
said David Grandeau, executive director of the Lobbying Commision.
“The expanded definition would require agency lobbying or
procurement lobbying to be reported. [For example,] when you
buy $10 million worth of computers for a state office, there
is no bill that anyone is lobbying on, but there is lobbying
at the agency level as to who will get the contract.”
Rachel Leon, executive director of the legislative watchdog
group Common Cause/NY, said the need to expand the definition
of lobbying is great.
is a lot of money at stake,” Leon said. “It is not just public
trust we’re talking about, but it is actually the public treasury.
We’re talking about potentially billions of dollars being
given out in state contracts, and there is no sunlight on
that process; it’s not considered lobbying. And as we’ve seen
with the Correctional Services scandal, it’s not like everything
is hunky dory and we don’t need a change.”
Leon referred to the case of former Assemblywoman Gloria Davis,
who admitted to taking bribes from Correctional Services Corp.,
a Florida-based prison operator, while the group sought to
win contracts in New York state. Davis’ admission brought
CSC’s lobbying practices under scrutiny by state prosecutors
and election officials, and a decision is still pending.
Another of the Lobbying Commission’s recommendations is to
drop the state’s ban on individual legislators accepting personal
gifts worth more than $75. Grandeau said the commission would
like to get rid of the “arbitrary monetary cap” on gifts,
and have all gifts disclosed.
now there is a gift ban of $75, and I can’t tell the difference
between a $70 gift and an $80 gift, and I don’t know anyone
that can,” Grandeau said. “With that thought in mind, let’s
just let legislators accept all gifts and require them to
be reported. Then let the public and the media draw their
Though Leon agreed that the state’s rules regarding legislators
accepting personal gifts are in need of reform, her group
endorses a more extreme change to the law: barring all legislators
from accepting personal gifts from lobbyists.
just don’t think there should be any reason that lobbyists
should be giving legislators gifts,” Leon said. “Most citizens
don’t give gifts to legislators; [lobbyists and legislators]
should be talking about issues. This is about access and lobbyists
having this chummy relationship with legislators that most
New Yorkers don’t have.”
But Leon said that one of the reasons her group endorsed many
of the Lobbying Commission’s recommended reforms stems from
acknowledging the importance of the practice.
is nothing wrong per se with lobbying; we are lobbyists and
we hope that more citizens are lobbyists,” Leon said. “It
just seems that you have to pay to play in the sense that
if you want your issues represented in Albany you really need
to have a hired gun, and that is not what democracy should
be about. Democracy should be about citizens being able to
lobby their elected officials, and it is not as if they can’t
now, but are their voices being heard as loud as the $92 million
to be Americans: troop supporters in Clifton Park. Photo
by John Whipple.
Us or Against Us
rally supporting U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq brings
out hostility toward antiwar protesters—and concerns about
a corporate giant’s role in promoting the event
event titled “Rally for the Troops”—part of a growing nationwide
movement to publicly support the U.S. military campaign in
Iraq and combat the nation’s antiwar demonstrations—drew thousands
to the Clifton Commons Sports Complex on Saturday, due in
part to sponsorship by a local Clear Channel radio station.
Though police officers didn’t offer a specific head count,
Sgt. Scott McCart of the New York State Police said there
were “a lot more people there than anyone expected.” McCart
said he was told by one of the town supervisors that the crowd
numbered close to 10,000 at its peak.
Don Neddo organized the event, as he has a number of smaller
rallies throughout the Capital Region over the past few months.
The Halfmoon resident said he was fed up with the media’s
coverage of demonstrations being held to protest war in Iraq.
troops think that everything is anti-American in this country,
anti-troop,” Neddo said. “They’re not getting the message,
but they will now.”
Neddo said he was pleased with the rally’s crowd, which was
much greater than the turnout at similar rallies he’d held
throughout the Capital Region in the last month. For that,
Neddo, a veteran whose grandson is currently stationed in
the Middle East, can thank Scott Allen Miller, a local radio
personality. Miller promoted the rally on his afternoon talk
program on Clear Channel-owned AM station WGY.
In fact, on-air personalities at Clear Channel stations have
been endorsing rallies supporting the troops and the war effort
throughout the nation, raising the eyebrows of many media
look at the difference between antiwar rallies, where you
have to buy your publicity, your advertising, and it costs
you an enormous amount of money,” said Peter Hart, media analyst
for the watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
“Then the other side, the pro-war rallies, have this built-in
support at the radio stations. There is such an obvious case
of political speech being available in vastly different amounts.”
But a statement issued by Clear Channel said the company is
not endorsing the rallies; its talk-radio personalities are.
radio IS advocacy,” read the statement. “Successful talk radio
hosts all have strong opinions which they freely express.
. . . Far from being mouthpieces for the companies that own
the programs . . . the hosts often create problems for them
among groups who take exception to their points of view and
try to silence them through boycotts and protests.”
But the company’s statement did not address a possible a conflict
of interest—Clear Channel broadcasts daily reports on the
war in Iraq via the company’s embedded reporter during the
syndicated talk shows endorsing pro-troop, pro-war rallies.
A company spokesman did not return calls for comment.
Regardless of how the messages were broadcast prior to the
event, at the rally they were loud and clear. “America, love
it or get out” and “Support our troops and President Bush”
read some of the signs hoisted above the heads and shoulders
of the mob that often broke into chants of “USA! USA!” and
choruses of “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The event featured a number of speakers ranging from veterans
praising the country’s servicemen for their bravery to people
reading letters from family members in the field. Many people
sold yellow ribbons and bits and pieces of Americana to raise
money and send care packages to the troops, which include
food and prepaid phone cards.
about time that [the troops] had something like this around
here,” said Watervliet resident Laura Sehl, whose son Paul
Marziani is a combat engineer in the Army’s 3rd infantry division
currently stationed in Umm Qasr, Iraq. “You see all the peace
activists that are out there, and [the troops], they need
our support to raise their morale, to know that we are behind
them one hundred percent.”
But the atmosphere wasn’t supportive to all of the rally’s
attendees. Roughly a half-dozen antiwar demonstrators showed
up carrying signs supporting the troops, but opposing the
war. “An eye for an eye leaves the world blind” and “Support
our troops, bring them home” read the placards of the antiwar
protesters who—lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery—bore
a continuous spray of insults and verbal abuse.
bunch of elitists. You think you know everything,” one of
the rally’s attendees shouted at the antiwar demonstrators,
though his comments were among the tamer ones. A few parents
walking past the wall of police guarding the war protesters
shouted epithets and told their young children that the demonstrators
they think so much of Saddam, why in the hell don’t they move
the hell out of this country and go to there?” said Neddo.
“They don’t belong in this country, they’re traitors. They
either support this country, support that good old red, white
and blue flag, or get the hell out of here.”
Neddo said he was planning on taking “Rallies for the Troops”
across the state, with events planned in Utica, Syracuse,
Rochester and Buffalo. He hopes to garner enough support to
hold a rally in New York City matching the antiwar demonstrations
that have drawn hundreds of thousands.
people are finally coming alive and getting sick of it, and
they’ve had enough,” Neddo said. “Enough is enough, you know
what I mean.”
The next Rally for the Troops will be held Saturday, May 10,
at the Capitol building from 1 to 3 PM.