Sewell Chan of the New York Times reports that Mayor Bloomberg has signed three bills that tighten regulation of city lobbyists, including a ban on gifts. This is something that we at the Brennan Center would like to see happen on the State level.
What's the problem with lobbyists giving gifts to elected officials and other state employees? At the very least, it gives the appearance of corrupting the legislative process and providing unequal public access to government decision-makers. For instance:
Reports surfaced in spring of 2004 that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had allegedly accepted a discounted suite in a Las Vegas hotel run by a company that wanted to run a casino in New York State.
In 1995, New York’s beer and soda industry was able to score a $42 million tax cut in that year’s state budget, during a year when the state faced a $5 billion shortfall. At the height of the effort to pass tax cut legislation, the industry met privately with top policy makers over dinner. Pepsi lobbyists treated Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, state Republican Party Chairman William Powers, and other party leaders to a $1,397 dinner at the New York City restaurant Lutece. Democratic legislators were also taken to The Four Seasons restaurant, where the tab was $2,354.
In 1996, Philip Morris spent tens of thousands of dollars on gifts to Albany lawmakers, including meals at fine restaurants, seats at the men’s final of the US Open, hotel reservations and tickets to the Indianapolis 500, as well as Yankees and Mets baseball games. The chief lobbyist for Philip Morris in Albany treated 60 lawmakers and their aides to more than $12,000 in meals in the first half of 1996 alone.
None of this looks good to ordinary New Yorkers, who wonder whether their voice really counts in Albany. Wouldn't New York State be better off if it followed the City's lead and banned all gifts from lobbyists?
Categories: General, Government Ethics