Spitzer Urges Major Changes In State Lobbying Law

Attorney General Spitzer called on the State Legislature to adopt sweeping changes to New York's lobbying laws, noting that such reforms are necessary to restore the public's confidence in government.

"The public recognizes that our legislative process is broken, and that our weak lobbying laws are a major part of the problem," said Attorney General Spitzer. "Because the problems are so fundamental, we cannot adopt timid or partial reforms. Instead, the reforms must be bold and comprehensive."

The Attorney General's proposed reforms include the following:

  • Prohibit lobbying on government contracts;
  • Prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to government officials;
  • Extend the Lobbying Act – which currently applies only to attempts to influence legislation – to cover all forms of government decision-making;
  • Expand the ban on retainer agreements that tie compensation to the success of the lobbying effort; and
  • Significantly increase penalties for violations of the Lobbying Act.

Spitzer's proposals were made in written testimony submitted to the New York State Lobbying Commission. Commission staff has proposed a series of changes to the Lobbying Act, and the Commission is holding a hearing on Monday, November 29 to consider the staff proposals. Spitzer applauded the Commission for holding the hearing, and was supportive of some of the staff proposals. Like Spitzer, the Commission staff recommended extending the Lobbying Act to cover non-legislative issues, expanding the ban on contingent retainers, and increasing penalties.

However, Spitzer asserted that some of the staff recommendations were too timid, and others were counterproductive. For example, the Attorney General recommended a complete ban on procurement lobbying, and proposed that companies violating the ban should be automatically disqualified from obtaining the contract.

"When lobbyists circumvent established procedures, and seek to alter contracting decisions, it causes the public to question the fairness of the entire procurement process," Spitzer said. "If bidders know that improper lobbying will cause them to lose a contract, they will not engage in such lobbying, and instead will spend their time and energy on submitting the best possible proposal."

Spitzer also sharply criticized the recommendation from Commission staff to eliminate the cap on gifts from lobbyists. Under current law, lobbyists can give gifts up to $75, and this is a "per gift" cap, so lobbyists can give multiple gifts below that threshold, even though the payments could total hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. The Commission staff recommended eliminating that cap, thereby allowing unlimited gifts of unlimited amounts.

"Simply stated, that is one of the most counter-productive proposals I have ever heard," said the Attorney General. "The public already believes that monied interests have an undue influence over government decision-making, and they want the existing practices reformed, not exacerbated."

Instead, Spitzer called for a ban on any gifts of more than nominal value, noting that he had imposed such a ban in the Attorney General's Office when he took office in 1999.

"We need to eliminate any accusations that decisions are made based on money rather than substance," said Spitzer. "That is the only way to restore the public's confidence in the integrity of the legislative process."

A copy of Attorney General Spitzer's written testimony is attached. The testimony is limited to proposed lobbying reforms, and does not cover other areas of needed reform such as budgeting, ethics, debt practices, campaign finance and public authorities.

Attachments:

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