Report: NY Lobbying Transparency Undermined by Antiquated Tech and Irregular Reporting


Antiquated​ ​Database​ ​and​ ​Irregular​ ​Reporting Undermine​ ​NYS​ ​Lobbying​ ​Transparency

As​ ​JCOPE​ ​Considers​ ​Rules​ ​on​ ​Disclosure,​ ​Technology​ ​Upgrade​ ​is​ ​Needed

Reinvent​ ​Albany​ ​released​ ​a​ ​​report​​ ​today​ ​concluding​ ​lobbying​ ​activity​ ​is​ ​not​ ​nearly​ ​as transparent​ ​as​ ​it​ ​should​ ​be.​ ​​​JCOPE’s​ ​Online​ ​Filing​ ​System​ ​is​ ​antiquated​ ​and​ ​outdated. Organizations​ ​that​ ​hire​ ​lobbyists​ ​(clients)​ ​often​ ​report​ ​similar​ ​lobbying​ ​activity differently​ ​from​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​making​ ​comparisons​ ​across​ ​clients​ ​very​ ​challenging​ ​if​ ​not impossible.​ ​​​Certain​ ​client​ ​filings​ ​raised​ ​questions​ ​about​ ​whether​ ​lobbying​ ​activity​ ​was accurately​ ​and​ ​completely​ ​reported.

The​ ​​report​​ ​analyzed​ ​52,703​ ​client​ ​semi-annual​ ​lobbying​ ​filings​ ​from​ ​2007​ ​to​ ​January 2017​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Joint​ ​Commission​ ​on​ ​Public​ ​Ethics​ ​(JCOPE).

“New​ ​York​ ​State​ ​has​ ​led​ ​the​ ​nation​ ​in​ ​strengthening​ ​lobbying​ ​disclosure​ ​laws​ ​that create​ ​more​ ​transparency,”​ ​said​ ​Alex​ ​Camarda,​ ​senior​ ​policy​ ​advisor​ ​for​ ​Reinvent Albany.​ ​​​“However,​ ​irregular​ ​reporting​ ​by​ ​lobbyists​ ​and​ ​antiquated​ ​online​ ​filing​ ​systems have​ ​weakened​ ​the​ ​effectiveness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​laws​ ​and​ ​undermined​ ​lobbying​ ​transparency.”

Reinvent​ ​Albany​ ​believes​ ​JCOPE’s​ ​online​ ​filing​ ​system​ ​should​ ​be​ ​modernized​ ​by​ ​using web​ ​forms​ ​and​ ​drop​ ​down​ ​menus,​ ​as​ ​New​ ​York​ ​City’s​ ​E-Lobbyist​ ​system​ ​does,​ ​to​ ​guide filers​ ​in​ ​entering​ ​specific​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.​ ​​​This​ ​will​ ​standardize​ ​lobbying​ ​activity​ ​data, and​ ​enable​ ​analyses​ ​across​ ​lobbyists,​ ​subjects,​ ​targets​ ​and​ ​bills.​ ​​​It​ ​will​ ​also​ ​make individual​ ​client​ ​filings​ ​more​ ​revealing.

The​ ​report​ ​identified​ ​the​ ​following​ ​lobbying​ ​activity​ ​reporting​ ​and​ ​disclosure​ ​issues:

1. Organizations​ ​that​ ​use​ ​lobbyists​ ​(aka​ ​clients)​ ​use​ ​a​ ​wide​ ​variety​ ​of words,​ ​phrases​ ​and​ ​syntax​ ​for​ ​similar​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.​ ​This​ ​makes​ ​it hard​ ​to​ ​collectively​ ​analyze​ ​their​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.

  • Lobbying​ ​clients​ ​reported​ ​advocating​ ​on​ ​the​ ​“budget”​ ​in​ ​336​ ​filings,​ ​the most​ ​commonly​ ​reported​ ​lobbying​ ​subject.​ ​​​However,​ ​the​ ​3rd,​ ​4th,​ ​22nd, 24th,​ ​28th,​ ​29th​ ​and​ ​30th​ ​most​ ​frequently​ ​reported​ ​subjects​ ​lobbied​ ​also appear​ ​to​ ​be​ ​related​ ​to​ ​the​ ​budget​ ​(“Funding”​ ​(234​ ​times);​ ​“NYC​ ​Budget” (173​ ​times);​ ​“Funding​ ​Issues”​ ​(65​ ​times);​ ​“Budget​ ​Issues”​ ​(59​ ​times);​ ​“New York​ ​City​ ​Budget”​ ​(55​ ​times);​ ​“Budget​ ​Funding”​ ​(52​ ​times);​ ​and​ ​“Budget, Regulatory​ ​and​ ​Legislative​ ​Issues​ ​Pertaining​ ​to​ ​Healthcare​ ​and​ ​Hospitals” (52​ ​times)).
  • Reinvent​ ​Albany​ ​tallied​ ​an​ ​extraordinary​ ​5,132​ ​different​ ​descriptions​ ​of lobbying​ ​activity​ ​that​ ​use​ ​the​ ​word​ ​​​“budget”,​ ​and​ ​3,115​ ​different descriptions​ ​of​ ​lobbying​ ​activity​ ​using​ ​the​ ​word​ ​“funding.”
  • It​ ​is​ ​therefore​ ​extremely​ ​laborious​ ​and​ ​nearly​ ​impossible​ ​to​ ​even determine​ ​all​ ​the​ ​clients​ ​which​ ​have​ ​lobbied​ ​on​ ​the​ ​state’s​ ​budget.

2. Reported ​​lobbying ​​targets​​ are ​​often ​​general ​​and ​​vague.

  • Because​ ​state​ ​law​ ​only​ ​requires​ ​the​ ​“name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​person,​ ​organization​ ​​or legislative​ ​body”​ ​to​ ​be​ ​reported​ ​as​ ​a​ ​lobbying​ ​target,​ ​reported​ ​lobbying targets​ ​are​ ​often​ ​unrevealing.​ ​​​Below​ ​are​ ​the​ ​top​ ​10​ ​reported​ ​lobbying targets.

3. Information ​​is ​​missing ​​from ​​clients’ ​​filings, ​​and ​​the ​​reasons ​​for ​​those omissions​ ​are​ ​unclear.

  • Of​ ​52,703​ ​filings,​ ​5,998​ ​filings​ ​(11.38%)​ ​did​ ​not​ ​include​ ​the​ ​subject lobbied.​ ​​​6,200​ ​filings​ ​(11.76%)​ ​did​ ​not​ ​contain​ ​the​ ​persons​ ​or organizations​ ​lobbied.​ ​​​25,255​ ​filings​ ​(47.92%)​ ​did​ ​not​ ​include​ ​the​ ​bill​ ​or other​ ​numbers​ ​associated​ ​with​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.
  • Unreported​ ​lobbying​ ​subjects​ ​may​ ​simply​ ​reflect​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​lobbying activity​ ​during​ ​the​ ​period​ ​(lobbyists​ ​often​ ​monitor​ ​government​ ​matters​ ​for clients)​ ​or​ ​it​ ​may​ ​indicate​ ​underreporting​ ​by​ ​clients.​ ​​​Unreported​ ​bill numbers​ ​may​ ​indicate​ ​the​ ​client​ ​did​ ​not​ ​lobby​ ​on​ ​legislation,​ ​rules, executive​ ​orders,​ ​or​ ​procurement​ ​with​ ​associated​ ​numbers​ ​or​ ​it​ ​may reflect​ ​underreporting.

4. All​​ reported ​​lobbying ​​activity ​​by ​​each ​​client ​​is​​ typically​​ mashed together​ ​in​ ​JCOPE’s​ ​online​ ​filing​ ​system,​ ​making​ ​it​ ​difficult​ ​to determine​ ​which​ ​persons​ ​were​ ​lobbied​ ​on​ ​particular​ ​subjects​ ​and/or bills​ ​or​ ​do​ ​broader​ ​analyses​ ​of​ ​many​ ​clients’​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.

5. Some ​​filers ​​appear ​​to ​​report ​​lobbying​​ activity ​​on ​​autopilot,​​ reporting the​ ​same​ ​large​ ​set​ ​of​ ​bill​ ​numbers​ ​lobbied​ ​year​ ​after​ ​year​ ​even​ ​while the​ ​numbers​ ​reset​ ​with​ ​every​ ​new​ ​legislature.

Reinvent​ ​Albany​ ​believes​ ​many​ ​of​ ​the​ ​irregular​ ​reporting​ ​issues​ ​highlighted​ ​in​ ​the report​ ​can​ ​be​ ​addressed​ ​through​ ​modernizing​ ​The​ ​Joint​ ​Commission​ ​on​ ​Public​ ​Ethics’ (JCOPE)​ ​online​ ​filing​ ​system.​ ​​​The​ ​current​ ​filing​ ​system​ ​does​ ​not​ ​utilize​ ​web​ ​forms​ ​or drop​ ​down​ ​menus​ ​to​ ​facilitate​ ​standardized​ ​reporting​ ​of​ ​lobbying​ ​activity.​ ​​​New​ ​York City’s​ ​E-lobbyist​ ​application​ ​requires​ ​filers​ ​to​ ​select​ ​specific​ ​agencies​ ​and​ ​individual lawmakers​ ​lobbied​ ​from​ ​drop​ ​down​ ​menus,​ ​while​ ​staff​ ​members​ ​and​ ​government employees​ ​are​ ​entered​ ​manually.​ ​​​JCOPE’s​ ​database​ ​should​ ​be​ ​structured​ ​similarly.​ ​​​The city’s​ ​system​ ​also​ ​requires​ ​filers​ ​to​ ​enter​ ​data​ ​so​ ​for​ ​each​ ​specific​ ​governmental determination​ ​lobbied​ ​on,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​clear​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​the​ ​persons​ ​lobbied,​ ​the subject​ ​matter,​ ​and​ ​any​ ​bill​ ​or​ ​other​ ​numbers​ ​affiliated​ ​with​ ​the​ ​subject.​ ​​​JCOPE’s​ ​online filing​ ​system​ ​should​ ​be​ ​similarly​ ​structured,​ ​and​ ​also​ ​enable​ ​clients​ ​to​ ​select designations​ ​which​ ​reflect​ ​“no​ ​activity”​ ​or​ ​information​ ​requests​ ​that​ ​are​ ​“not applicable.”



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