Under the de Blasio administration, politics is awash in lobbying cash.
Bull Market. Fees for reported municipal lobbying reached a record $86,2 million in 2015, entangling much of New York City government’s business in lobbying. The record set in 2015 represented a nearly 20 per cent. increase from the prior record of $71,9 million set only in the year before, and the total 2014 reported lobbying fees represented a jump of 15 per cent. from 2013, when the overall industry reported $62,7 million in lobbying fees. These fees do not include earnings of unregistered lobbying firms.
Top of the League Table. A report published by The New York Daily News noted that the firm topping the lobbying league table was Capalino + Company, headed by James Capalino, whose firm raked in $12,9 million. The revenues of Mr. Capalino’s firm has nearly quadrupled since 2012, when it earned just $3,3 million from lobbying, according to a report published by Crain’s New York Business. Mr. Capalino’s financial windfall is fundamentally due to his close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. The New York Daily news noted that Mr. Capalino was a contributor to the mayor’s 2013 campaign committee, and Mr. Capalino has also contributed to support the mayor’s controversial nonprofit lobbying arm, the Campaign for One New York. Generous with his cash, it’s no surprise that Mr. Capalino has reportedly enjoyed insider access with Mayor de Blasio, benefitting Mr. Capalino and each of his clients.
Growth Market. Mr. Capalino’s closeness with Mayor de Blasio creates a self-propagating scenario that attracts more clients seeking to influence the mayor, replenishing the flow of lobbying fees with which Mr. Capalino can circuitously funnel contributions back to the mayor’s campaign committee and nonprofit lobbying arm.
The Bulls. One example of Mr. Capalino’s clients, which have found success in this politics driven-by-money era, was Helicopter Tourism & Jobs Council, which paid Capalino + Associates to lobby against a City Council bill threatening to end the helicopter tourism industry in Lower Manhattan. Through Mr. Capalino’s lobbying, the helicopter tourism industry was saved from closure, albeit the number of flights were expected to be halved, according to a report published by The New York Times. No doubt the resulting scarcity of flights will push up the prices that helicopter operators can expect to charge tourism customers, increasing their profit margins even as their operations must downsize.
The Bears. The unfair advantage enjoyed by Mr. Capalino’s clients in setting government policy only works if community voices get ignored, like what happened to Battery Park City residents, who opposed the noisy and polluting helicopter tour industry. To New Yorkers such as these, the money-driven politics of municipal legislation places communities at a disadvantage, setting an example for other communities desiring better outcomes with City Hall or City Council. The mayor has established precedent for New Yorkers : If voters wish to be heard by elected officials, they need to hire lobbying firms.
Risk. The money paid to either lobbying firms and/or to Mayor de Blasio’s campaign committee or nonprofit lobbying groups are increasingly drawing law enforcement and regulatory scrutiny. Three days after Progress Queens reported that there was law enforcement interest in the activities of the Campaign for One New York, the journalist J. David Goodman filed a report for The New York Times, noting that the good government group, Common Cause/NY, had lodged a complaint with each of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the New York City Campaign Finance Board, requesting an official review of the nonprofit lobbying arm’s compliance with City Charter and municipal campaign finance regulations.
Information Statement. Mr. Capalino’s past lobbying performance does not guarantee future results.
-- Progess Queens