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New York Daily News

I-Team Special Investigation

Nov. 20, 2007

 

New York City lobbyists probed

 

BY GREG B. SMITH

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

 

After leaving his city job, former mayoral aide Jonathan Greenspun (below) lobbied on behalf of Thor Equities, which has big plans for Coney Island.

 

His new firm didn't detail whom he sought help from, in apparent violation of law.Albans/News His new firm didn't detail whom he sought help from, in apparent violation of law.

 

Lobbyists for some of the city's biggest corporations and developers are hiding the names of city employees they've tried to influence in apparent violation of the law, a Daily News probe has found.

 

Last January, a new was past requiring all lobbyists to list by name all city employees they've pressed to obtain tax breaks, zoning changes, contracts and other perks for their clients.

 

The News found 95% of the 264 lobbyists who filed reports this year failed to reveal the names of the so-called "targets" they lobbied on their registration forms.

 

As a result, the public has no way to know which levers most well-paid lobbyists are trying to pull for their powerful clients.

 

On Friday, Acting City Clerk Michael McSweeney, whose office monitors lobbyists, ordered an investigation to ensure the law is enforced in response to the ongoing News investigation of lobbyists.

 

"People are supposed to be following the law," McSweeney said. "They're supposed to specifically state the people that they're lobbying and the subject matter upon which they are lobbying. The law is clear.

 

"Based on what we've seen, clearly a lot of people are not adhering to that as specifically as required."

 

The lobbyists could face fines and even prosecution on misdemeanor charges.

 

Mayor Bloomberg enthusiastically supported the new law as a way to shed light on what used to be back-room deals.

 

Lobbyists were told to attend training sessions to learn how to fulfill the new law's requirements. Some lobbyists did and included detailed lists of names.

 

For instance, Bryan Cave LLP, a lobbyist law firm based in Manhattan, carefully recorded the names of all city employees with whom the firm's lobbyists met.

 

Atlantic Development Group, for instance, paid Bryan Cave $12,544 this year to seek a permit to build affordable housing.

 

Records show the lobbyists reached out to Robert Dobruskin, an administrative city planner, and David Karnovsky, a lawyer in the city Planning Department.

 

"We take the lobbying requirements very seriously because we believe the city takes them seriously," said Robert Davis, one of the firm's lawyers.

 

In contrast, there's Jonathan Greenspun, who left his job as commissioner of Mayor Bloomberg's community assistance unit in June 2006 and registered as a lobbyist for the firm FHGR.

 

The law prohibits former city employees from lobbying any city agency on matters in which they had personal involvement while city employees. None of Greenspun's filings reveals the names of the city employees he lobbied.

 

During his years working for the mayor, Greenspun served as a liaison with numerous city agencies, including the Department of Buildings and the city Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

 

Immediately upon leaving the Office of the Mayor, Greenspun began lobbying both the Buildings Department and the EDC on behalf of seven corporate clients seeking zoning changes and city contracts, records show.

 

That included representing Thor Equities in its quest to win EDC aid to develop an amusement park and condos in Coney Island; his firm got $167,000, records show.

 

The records do not show the names of people who were lobbied. Greenspun declined to comment, but his partner Mike McKeon said he would not release the names because his lawyers said the forms comply with the law.

 

In addition, the forms raise another issue. City employees are barred from lobbying their former colleagues for a year after leaving public service.

 

Greenspun's lobbyist firm, FHGR, insists Greenspun only lobbied employees in city agencies, not employees of the mayor's office.

 

Some records back that up: Van Wagner Communications, a billboard company, paid FHGR $50,000 to lobby on an unspecified "local law." The record states Greenspun lobbied "only" the Buildings Department, while his colleague, McKeon, lobbied the mayor's office.

 

But other records list Greenspun as one of several FHGR lobbyists lobbying the "Office of the Mayor" on behalf of several clients during the year he was supposed to be banned from doing so.

 

Alabama-based Intergraph Corp., for instance, paid Greenspun and FHGR $132,000 to lobby the mayor's office and other city agencies on "security technology" within the year after Greenspun left City Hall.

 

McKeon said Greenspun was "extremely scrupulous" to avoid breaking the law on the one-year ban, seeking a ruling from a city ethics attorney and FHGR's counsel.

 

"He was very diligent in making sure that everything he did was right and proper," McKeon wrote in response to e-mailed questions. "He did not speak to any mayoral staffers about any client business at all during his ban."

 

McKeon said he handled all contact with the mayor's office during Greenspun's one-year ban.

 

Last month The News revealed that another mayoral aide, Anthony (Skip) Piscitelli, lobbied his former colleagues within a year of leaving public service.

 

Piscitelli's lobbyist firm, Wilson Elser, did not list the names of the mayor's aides Piscitelli lobbied on its 2007 forms, records show.

Disputing the law's fine print

 

It's impossible to know which employees were lobbied by former politicians such as ex-Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. and ex-Queens Borough President Claire Schulman.

 

Vallone says he followed the law, which states lobbyists must report "the person or agency before which the lobbyist has lobbied." He interprets that to mean one or the other.

 

The city clerk's instructions to lobbyists state otherwise, spelling out that if a lobbyist contacts a city employee on behalf of a paying client, he must reveal that person's name. The city clerk's office said it will examine Vallone's filings.

 

Schulman said she was unaware that she was required to list the names of those she lobbied on behalf of a Queens developer who wants to develop two sites in Forest Hills. When asked, she volunteered the name of city employee John Young.

 

"I didn't like doing it to begin with," she said. "I don't like being a lobbyist or a consultant. It's just not my thing."

 

gsmith@nydailynews.com