Wall Street may be taking a beating recently, but at least one other New York industry seems recession-proof: lobbying. Once again, spending on lobbying broke records, with an all-time high of $171.2 million spent on influencing state lawmakers, according to the Commission on Public Integrity which released its annual report on lobbying of the New York State legislature.
Year-over-year increases in spending by lobbyists aren’t anything new, but some of the groups at the top of the list of big spenders were new: Verizon communications topped the list with $3.2 million spent while Columbia University was second with $2.3 million.
“In the aggregate, it is a banner year, but I have seen years when more money was spent by individual interest groups” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This is one industry that always spends more than the year before in aggregate.”
The rest of the top ten went as follows:
3. United Teachers $2.1 million
4. O’Brien & Gere Limited $1.6 million
5. Greater NY Hospital Association $1.6 million
6. Healthcare Association of New York State $1.5 million
7. Medical Society of the State of New York $1.5 million
8. Forest City Ratner Companies $1.2 million
9. Trial Lawyers Association $959,733
10. United Federation of Teachers $876,952
“What was surprising was that it was Verizon, not the amount that was spent” Horner said. “Typically when you see big bucks being spent by a corporation in Albany, they’re trying to block something from happening.”
In this case, Verizon was attempting to prevent the establishment of statewide ‘video franchising’ laws which regulate the power of local governments to control the cable television market, targeting, among other bills, the introduced but unpassed Omnibus Telecommunications Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2007 written by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D–Westchester).
That bill would have granted a statewide license to Verizon for its FiOS Internet and television service, but subjected the company to net neutrality and build out requirements that the company opposed. Groups like Consumer’s Union supported the bill, saying that it would have introduced more competition and preserved innovation on the internet.
“Industry can almost present a brick wall to stop whatever legislation they don’t like,” said Chuck Bell of Consumer’s Union, which spent a few thousand lobbying in favor of the bill. “We have no easy way to marshal the collective economic interests of consumers to compete with Verizon. As consumers, we’re dispersed and we can’t counteract them.”