The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“Commission”) today released its 2018 Annual Report, featuring highlights of its work over the past year, including its regulating of the $261.2 million spent on lobbying at the state and local government levels, more than $21 million more than reported spending for 2017.
Participation in lobbying also reached record levels last year, with just over 7,790 individual lobbyists reported on 5,334 lobbyist registrations filed with the Commission, representing 5,041 clients. By comparison, in 2017, there were just over 6,700 reported individual lobbyists. In total, Commission staff reviewed and processed more than 53,000 filings and lobbying contracts.
Spending on compensation paid to retained and in-house (employee) lobbyists was $234.4 million, a $13 million (almost 6 percent) increase over 2017. Reported advertising expenses were more than $15 million, an increase of more than 133 percent over 2017. Event-related expenses also jumped nearly 79 percent to $842,078. Both of those figures had been down significantly in 2017 as compared to prior years.
The list of top 10 highest lobbying spenders was once again dominated by traditionally active industries, i.e., organized labor and health care, although the top spending entity is not in one of those industries. Uber Technologies, Inc. and Affiliates spent more than $5.9 million, with most of the money going toward advertising buys in 2018, followed by 1199 SEIU Labor Management Initiatives, Inc. Healthcare Education Project, Greater New York Hospital Association, Inc. (2017’s top spender), New York State Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Trust (which filed for the first time in 2018), and the New York State Nurses Association. Rounding out the top 10 were the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, AARP, and Healthcare Association of New York State. In addition to being the dominant industry among the biggest spenders, health & mental hygiene remained the most active industry for all lobbying, reported on nearly 19 percent of registrations, followed by real estate & construction at almost 16 percent of all reported lobbying.
The list of top retained lobbyists was again led by Kasirer LLC, followed by Brown & Weinraub, PLLC, Bolton St. Johns, LLC, Greenburg Traurig, LLP and Hinman Straub Advisors LLC. Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP dropped out of the list of top 10 firms in 2018, while Mercury Public Affairs, LLC entered the top 10. The largest retainer, $3,556,401, paid from 1199 SEIU Labor Management Initiatives, Inc. Healthcare Education Project to SKDKnickerbocker LLC, primarily reimbursed the lobbyist for media buys related to health issues.
The complete source data filed by lobbyists and their clients was also published to the Commission’s website, jcope.ny.gov, today, and can be found here. Tables summarizing some of the 2018 lobbying data highlights appear at the end of this release.
The report also highlights some of the Commission's achievements and successes in the areas key to its mission – education, regulation, and enforcement activities.
In 2018, following extensive hearings, public outreach, and solicitation of comments under the State Administrative Procedure Act, the Commission adopted the first set of comprehensive lobbying regulations in New York history, which became effective on January 1, 2019. Coinciding with the promulgation of the new regulations, the Commission developed and introduced a new lobbying application for filing online and viewing lobbying data. The new application will streamline filing and improve search functionality for the public, increasing transparency.
During the year, the Education Unit conducted numerous ethics training programs for financial disclosure statement filers, State agency ethics officers, and lobbying entities, gearing such outreach to the unique needs of agencies and those subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction; Commission staff handled hundreds of requests for advice and guidance; and the Commission issued a formal Advisory Opinion clarifying years of previous advice on applying the post-employment restrictions to former public officers. Commission staff also actively initiated and continued to pursue investigations and enforcement actions for alleged violations of Public Officers Law and the Lobbying Act. One of its larger settlements was part of a long and ongoing investigation and involved a top 10 lobbying firm for providing a contribution to a not-for-profit at the direction of an elected official.
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The Communications and Public Information Office is the point of contact for the public and members of the press with questions about JCOPE's mission and to request access to records such as the financial disclosure statements filed by state officials and employees, the statewide elected officials, members of the Legislature and legislative employees.