By LOUIS FLORES
In an investigative report broadcast Wednesday evening on NY1 Inside City Hall, the journalist Grace Rauh pulled back the curtain on the unregistered lobbying firm, BerlinRosen.
One of BerlinRosen's name partners, Jonathan Rosen, is a close advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City). Indeed, BerlinRosen worked on the de Blasio mayoral campaign in 2013 and maintains close ties to Mayor de Blasio. A report published last year in The New York Post showed that Mayor de Blasio regularly consults with BerlinRosen by phone.
In 2014, Mr. Rosen attended 20 meetings with Mayor de Blasio, according to a review conducted by NY1 of Mayor de Blasio's calendar. Those meetings have given Mr. Rosen access to inside information about the de Blasio administration.
That insider access gives Mr. Rosen and his firm with access to present his clients' business to Mayor de Blasio, and Mr. Rosen is extremely aware of political sensitivities specific to Mayor de Blasio, allowing Mr. Rosen to guide his clients according to Mr. Rosen's knowledge of Mayor de Blasio's political sensitivities.
One nonprofit client of BerlinRosen, which Ms. Rauh highlighted in her report, was Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of police reform groups that, for much of 2014, deliberately deescalated pressure for police reform, so as not to embarrass Mayor de Blasio. However, late in 2014, after police reform activists began to demand that Mayor de Blasio hold the New York Police Department accountable for police brutality and officer-involved fatalities, BerlinRosen separated from its representation of Communities United for Police Reform, because BerlinRosen did not want to jeopardize its lucrative business opportunities, which are premised on maintaining close ties to Mayor de Blasio.
The political phenomenon of elected officials subjugating nonprofit social groups into deescalation has been described by Jane Hamsher, the publisher of Firedoglake, as locking groups into a "veal pen." The local phenomenon of the "veal pen" was the subject of a workshop at the 2014 Left Forum.
BerlinRosen also represents the Coalition for the Homeless, a group that refuses to hold Mayor de Blasio accountable for the runaway spike in homelessness during his mayoral administration, and the external nonprofit lobbying arm of City Hall, the Campaign for One New York.
The Campaign for One New York raises big money donations from special interests, who have business before New York City government. How many favors are being traded either by BerlinRosen on its own behalf or on behalf of the de Blasio administration in order to raise large sums of unregulated money for the controversial lobbying arm of City Hall ?
Ms. Rauh's report noted that because BerlinRosen is an unregistered lobbying firm, the public has no transparency into which private corporate clients the firm may represent or how much the firm is being paid -- transparency that does exist for registered lobbying firms, according to Ms. Rauh.
Another issue raised in Ms. Rauh's report is the fact that BerlinRosen can skirt campaign finance regulations that place a cap on campaign contributions for municipal officials.
Not mentioned in Ms. Rauh's report, however, is the fact that BerlinRoses uses the Campaign for One New York to coördinate its political and lobbying activities with City Hall when, during the normal course of an election cycle, such coördination would be deemed a violation of campaign finance law as amended by the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case.
BerlinRosen's lucrative business opportunities are given to it by its access to inside information about the de Blasio administration, and the public has no insight about how BerlinRosen may be exploiting that insider access, except that, on a few occasions, it becomes known that the firm is representing many sides on the same transaction, a revelation that became clear when it was reported that BerlinRosen was being paid by Two Trees Management, a real estate developer on whose behalf BerlinRosen consulted, in connection with a zone-busting real estate development project at the site of the old Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. BerlinRosen was representing Two Trees Management at the same time when BerlinRosen was advising City Hall on other matters.
"It was an early example of the position Rosen and his firm occupy in de Blasio's New York : at the nexus between City Hall and private interests," Ms. Rauh said in her investigative report.
As Progress Queens reported in a follow-up article about the New York City Housing Authority, information obtained by Progress Queens revealed that federal authorities had to review whether Mayor de Blasio had any role in a questionable tax break extended to another major real estate developer, Extell Development Company, laying bear concerns that the de Blasio administration may be engaged in unethical conduct.
BerlinRosen also represents Forest City Ratner and SL Green, two other major real estate developers, according to Ms. Rauh's report.
Predictably, two municipal legislators, Councilmembers Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) and Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), along with another lobbyist, who doubles as a campaign consultant, Hank Sheinkopf, defended the system that begets powerful firms like BerlinRosen.
"There's no laws being broken. They're doing what everyone else has always done," Mr. Sheinkopf said, in part, during Ms. Rauh's report.
Ms. Rauh's report represents a dramatic turn of events at NY1 Inside City Hall, where only last year host Errol Louis threatened to turn off the microphone and send home a candidate for public office, Doug Biviano, after Mr. Biviano complained about the duplicitous role of BerlinRosen in his campaign race.
Perhaps the shift in journalistic aggressiveness is due to the station's new managing editor, Joel Siegel, who was the former managing editor of the politics desk at The New York Daily News.
Either way, government reform activists are sure to welcome the increased scrutiny of lobbyists by NY1.
For so long, government reform activists inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement have been questioning why most corporate and political corruption is not exposed by the media, a belief that was validated during testimony delivered in September 2013 before the now-defunct Moreland Commission, when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, in part, that the "press have a role to play" in fighting corruption.
With Ms. Rauh's report, the public is now more aware of how permanent government insiders exploit inside information of government for private gain, giving big money special interests, like real estate developers, an inside track into government. In the process, nonprofit advocacy groups have been defanged and locked up in a metaphorical "veal pen," in a move deliberately designed to disempower reform activists.
Besides BerlinRosen, another powerful unregistered lobbying firm not mentioned in Ms. Rauh's report is SKDKnickerbocker, which Progress Queens has reported exerts undue influence over the administration of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York). What BerlinRosen is to Mayor de Blasio, SKDKnickerbocker is to Attorney General Schneiderman.
Another campaign consulting firm, which also has close ties to City Hall but one that does act as a registered lobbyist, The Advance Group, is reportedly under federal investigation for violations of campaign finance laws.
Politicians, who owe their elections and reëlections to unregistered lobbyists, who, in turn, double as campaign consultants, will be more likely than not to owe those campaign consultants special favors once politicians are in elected office. And therein lies the danger : how many of our politicians are returning favors to unregistered lobbyists by virtue of government budgets, government approvals, or government waivers ?
A disturbing question that, now that the curtain has been pulled back on this questionable conduct by the media, certainly merits a federal probe by U.S. Attorney Bharara's office.