Once Again, JCOPE Turns To An Ex-Cuomo Aide

The state’s top ethics and lobbying regulator has once again hired a former ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to become its executive director.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Tuesday announced Seth Agata, a former counsel to the Cuomo administration, has been appointed its executive director. Agata is currently the chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board.

Agata is part of a trend of former Cuomo aides leading the ethics commission, which was formed in 2011.

Agata replaces Letizia Tagliafierro, who had left the commission last year to become deputy commissioner at the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

Tagliafierro had worked with Cuomo while he was attorney general and later in his gubernatorial administration as the director of intergovernmental affairs.

She had replaced Ellen Biben, who had been the governor’s inspector general and had also worked with Cuomo during his AG days. Biben is now a Court of Claims judge, having been nominated by Cuomo.

“Seth Agata is a tremendous choice for Executive Director of the Commission,” said Commission Chair Daniel J. Horwitz. “He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and integrity to the position.”

At the time of Tagliafierro’s departure, JCOPE announced it would conduct a national search for an executive director.

Consultant Firm Calls For JCOPE Chair’s Resignation

The consultant firm that has been deeply critical of an advisory opinion from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics called on Monday for the resignation of the lobbying and ethics watchdog’s chairman.

The November Team, a PR firm that is led by Bill O’Reilly, Jessica Proud and Jerry McKinstry, has blasted JCOPE for an advisory opinion that required political consultants to register as lobbyists when they engage in a form of “grassroots” lobbying.

Contained in the advisory opinion was a provision that would require consultants who register as lobbyists to reveal when they speak with a newspaper editorial board.

The commission has insisted the move isn’t meant to stifle free speech, nor is it directed at reporters, but rather when a consultant has influenced the editorial board.

In a statement, the November Team’s Bill O’Reilly ratcheted up the criticism of JCOPE’s chair, Daniel Horwitz.

“Only in Andrew Cuomo’s New York would Bernie Madoff’s criminal defense attorney be put in charge of the state ethics commission,” said TNT partner Bill O’Reilly. “Mr. Horwitz may be sharp as a tack in criminal court, but he’s dumb as a doornail evidently when it comes to issues of free speech, which he has admitted to trying to regulate. Now, Mr. Horwitz, a man charged with increasing transparency in government, is literally shutting the doors on editorial board writers.”

The November Team — which has made hay over the regulatory change by filing a FOIL request to the FOIL-exempt commission — as insisted it won’t comply with the advisory opinion.

“One of two things is happening,” O’Reilly said. “Either Mr. Horwitz is running completely out of bounds on his own, in which case Mr. Cuomo should remove him from his position, or Mr. Cuomo is sanctioning Mr. Horwitz’s actions. What Mr. Cuomo does about this will tell us which it is.”

JCOPE Sets Aside Donor Shield Applications

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics today decided to set aside applications for four lobbying organizations that are seeking exemptions from the state’s donor disclosure guidelines.

The ethics panel’s chairman, Dan Horwitz, emerged from a closed-door executive session to announce the applications from three of the groups had only been received in the last day, and said the commission needed more time to determine whether they should receive the exemptions under source of funding regulations.

“We need additional time to review these materials,” Horwitz said. “We’re going to adjourn our consideration of these matters.”

The groups seeking the exemptions include the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s Equality Coalition and Family Planning Advocates. All are groups that lobbied in favor of passing the 10-point women’s agenda, which stalled after the Assembly and Senate approved differing versions.

At the center of the controversy over the women’s agenda was a provision aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade into state law.

New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms, a social conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, is also seeking the exemption.

The debate over the shield for donors started when abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice New York successfully sought the exemption for its donors. Senate Republicans, who had opposed the abortion plank of the women’s agenda, argued in a letter to Horwitz that it was unfair to grant the exemption just to NARAL.

“This year alone, NARAL Pro-Choice NY has reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on political attacks,” Senate GOP Leader Skelos wrote. “New Yorkers were targeted with political messages from this group in their newspapers, on the radio, and in their mailboxes.”

JCOPE would subsequently rule the names of organizations seeking donor disclosure would be disclosed.

Groups designated as 501(c)4s can be granted donor disclosure exemptions should their contributors face a “substantial likelihood” of threats or harm stemming from their donation.

Lobbyists Spent Less Overall In 2012

Last year, lobbying was declared “recession proof” by state regulators, but now it appears total spending influencing state government has actually gone down for the first time in more than a decade.

That’s according to the Joint Commission on Public Ethic’s annual lobbying report, which shows $205 million in 2012 was spent trying to influence public policy in Albany.

It’s a reduction of $15 million from 2011, the first since 2000 as lobbying groups and advocacy campaigns pulled back dramatically on advertising spending.

Still, lobbying in Albany remains a profitable business as influencers are still a well paid group.

Despite the spending reduction overall, a deeper look at the numbers shows that the real shrink was in advertising. Lobbyists spent $30.8 million on ad campaigns in 2011, spending only a fraction of that amount in 2012, $11.6 million.

But total compensation to paid lobbyists is actually up from $170 million two years ago to $179 million in 2012. That’s the highest total compensation has been since 2007, when then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office.

A top lobbying shop Patricia Lynch Associates, for example, actually recorded more total compensation and reimbursements in 2012 than in 2011.

Updated: It’s actually reverse: PLA has recorded a decrease in lobbying.

Also, the top earning lobbying organization this past year and in 2011 was Wislon Elser.

The Committee to Save New York, a coalition of wealthy business interests aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fiscal policies during his first two years in office, still led the way, spending $4.1 million.

But the committee, which so far this year has not re-applied to lobby the state as Cuomo shifts his priorities to a minimum wage increase and extension of high tax rates for the wealthy, spent more than double that amount just a year earlier, pouring more than $11 million into a campaign backing the governor’s austere budget plans.

Indeed, Save New York has not spent any money so far on advertising, with affiliated groups like the Partnership for New York City criticizing the proposal to extend the millionaires tax, which is due to be formally approved by the Assembly later today.

It has been Cuomo and the state Democratic Party to take this year the more traditional approach of budget advocacy, paying themselves for an extensive television and radio campaign on his behalf.

Oil giant Exxon Mobile was second in lobbying last year, spending $2.1 million, followed closely by Major League Soccer, which spent just $5,000 less. Fourth was the Greater New York Hospital Association, which poured $2 million into lobbying.

2012 Final Annual Report by Nick Reisman

JCOPE Releases Disclosure Guidelines

During this morning’s JCOPE meeting the state ethics board released a draft report on disclosure rules requiring lobbyists and lobbying groups to disclose individual donors who give more than $5000. The regulations would also require them to release the information retroactively.

They have until January 15th, 2013 to fill out the disclosure report, which is the same time candidates have to provide a 6 month fundraising update.

There are several stipulations in the disclosure laws too. For example, if a husband and wife donate less than $5000 individually but more than $5000 collectively than they need to be disclosed.

It also allows the commission to provide waivers to donors who might be threatened if they were to be disclosed. Here is the language:

The Commission may grant an exemption to disclose all Single Sources of Contributions to a Client Filer, if (i) the Client Filer has exempt status under I.R.C. §501(c)(4); and (ii) the Client Filer shows that its primary activities involve areas of public concern that create a substantial likelihood that disclosure of its Single Source(s) will cause harm, threats, harassment or reprisals to the Single Source(s) or individuals or property affiliated with the Single Source(s). Factors the Commission will consider when determining whether this showing has been made include,but are not limited to, the factors identified in 938.4(a)(i)-(v).

The key words in the passage is whether a donor can prove their is a “substantial likelihood” that releasing their identity will lead to harm, threats or harassment. Though, I think that gives JCOPE a lot of flexibility to grant waivers.

JCOPE has been expected to release these guidelines ever since the new ethics panel was announced back in December of last year. One month ago they outlined guidelines but didn’t set a date for release of the specific details.

H/T Jon Campbell
2012 07 30 Draft Source Funding Regulations for Web