Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Here we go again

JCOPE held a meeting today, in public with a meaningful agenda.

That’s the good news.

And while they won’t admit it (but I know they read it) they took my advice from the blog of April 4 and discussed in public what they had already decided in secrecy, that they could decide to follow the Open Meetings Law.  Now all they need to do is complete the journey and authorize the commission staff to follow the Freedom of Information Law.

Of course the commissioners could all agree how complicated and nuanced the issue is (it really isn’t its just common sense) before they hold another meeting in public to announce what they have decided in secrecy.  But at the end of the day let’s congratulate them on doing the right thing no matter how much it galls commissioner’s Jacobs and Horowitz to have to admit to themselves that I provided them the solution.  (Don’t worry guys I’m Jewish so it’s almost like you thought of it).

Now while they did some things right they made some horrendous errors that reminded me how many former Ginsberg flunkies are still around.

What am I talking about?  The Lobbying guidelines that they approved.

Now I’m all for new guidelines, the last ones were done in 2006 and two commissions, three executive directors, four chairpersons, and over 30 commissioners have come and gone since the old lobby commission drafted the last ones.  And when we did it they were drafted by staff with the input of some very bright commissioners (Shechtman, Celli, and Bulgaro among them) and after public input and comment, especially from the lobbying community that was effected by them.  I can  guarantee that didn’t happen this time.

These new guidelines were drafted by a commission temporary employee who is a lawyer, Shari Calnero.  Why is she a temporary? Because she was fired when Mitra cleaned out the last bunch of lawyers.  Why was she hired back?  Insiders tell me she has politically powerful family friends.  I know, because Shari used to work for me, that she doesn’t have a clue what effect her changes will have on the commission and the lobbying community.  I’d be shocked if she consulted with the few employees left from the old lobbying commission that understand the effect her changes will have on the commission and the lobbying community (she should have consulted Jeanine Clemente, she knows where all the old lobby commission bodies are buried).  I know the commissioners were not involved in any meaningful way other than rubberstamping at the meeting.  And I doubt anyone in the lobbying community had any input (but I bet certain commissioners will be getting phone calls pretty soon).

The result is so predictable I’ve got this feeling of déjà vu all over again.  A disaster.

There is not enough space to go over all the mistakes in the guidelines and the unintended consequences of doing such a half-assed job.  Plus I’ll provide that to my paying clients.

For right now let me just point out a few of the most boneheaded and what they mean to all involved parties.

On page 28 of the guidelines Shari states that registration amendments are due

within 10 days of the date that an event occurs which necessitates a change in any of the required information set forth in Lobbying Act 1‐e(c) above.”

Now I’m sure Shari was trying to force lobbyists to file registration amendments when they extend their lobbying contracts or add a new lobbyist, but a new registration amendment will now be required every time a lobbyist lobbies on a new bill, or meets with a legislator not listed on the original registration (information listed in Lobbying Act 1‐e(c) that staff never bothered to review before).  Can you imagine how much work Shari just made for the lobbying community and the JCOPE staff?  A new bill is introduced and you have to amend your registration within 10 days, a B print comes out, go back and amend it again. WHAT A WASTE OF TIME and it would be funny except JCOPE now says that they can impose late fees if you don’t amend within 10 days.  Those of you that read the blog know that I do not believe the statute provides for the imposition of late fees for registration amendments in fact the statute specifically says they can impose late fees for the late filing of registration statement NOT the amendments thereof.  The statute further says that amending a registration does not require the amendment of the entire form.  If your registration statement was timely an amendment of the information contained therein does not change that fact.  The same late fee language exists for bimonthly and client semi-annual reports and there has never been a late fee imposed for the amendment of either of those reports.

The really foolish, incompetent part of this is most of the things the guidelines now say you need to file an amendment for are NOT in the LOBBY ACT.  Start dates and end dates – not required in the statute.  Compensation amount – not required in the statute.  In-house lobbyist salary – not required in the statute.  This one is particularly foolish, Shari how does an organization know what percentage of time an employee will be lobbying before they actually lobby? Dope, that’s why the old lobby commission allowed the “will exceed threshold” language in authorizations even Ginsberg was smart enough to leave that alone.

Here is another guideline that should get the lobbying industry up in arms.

On pages 33 and 41, JCOPE is  requiring that employees of lobbying firms and clients disclose their salaries on bi monthly and client semi-annual reports.  Here’s what they want: 

“Such report must include all salaries and other compensation paid to staff such as those of lobbying employees or clerical assistance.”

I can’t wait to see how much Ken Shapiro and Jim Featherstonehaugh make.  In fact I bet the media will be chomping at the bit to see who the highest paid individual lobbying employee is.

And if you are an executive of a lobbying client that actually lobbies get ready to make your salary known to all.  And it’s not just the high paid lobbyist that will have to disclose salaries it’s the secretaries and support staff too.  With a little work we will be able to tell which firms are profitable and which are really profitable.  And I gotta believe some folks in town will be pissed when they see what the competition is paying.

And before anyone says it I know that the former Lobbying Commission had an opinion on this subject but I guess Shari doesn’t.  And it doesn’t matter because JCOPE is not bound by those old opinions.

And before I forget these guidelines are as bad as they are for what they don't explain as well.  The term "intended introduction" still undefined and unexplained but you have to register within 15 days of being retained to advocate for it.  The term "business relationship" still unexplained but you have to disclose it.  And the sources of funding disclosure due June 1st, not a peep.  The biggest change in lobbying disclosure in a decade and no one has a clue what it means or how it will be enforced.
At the end of the day I think the public can rest assured that Governor Cuomo is NOT influencing or controlling JCOPE.  There is simply no way anyone as competent and smart as Governor Cuomo and his staff are could have had anything to do with these guidelines.

Pay two dollars for a haircut and it looks like you got a two dollar haircut.

It’s my opinion that JCOPE went to the Helen Keller School of cosmetology and got a free haircut.

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