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In the mid-1980s, when legislative staffer Gene DeSantis was approached by a couple of advocates who thought they could create a viable lobbying firm specializing in public interest issues and non-profit clients, he had one immediate reaction: “You guys,” he said, “are nuts.” Today, Mr. DeSantis is a leading lobbyist for Malkin & Ross, and Malkin & Ross is one of the leading lobbying practices in Albany. The firm which started out with a grand total of one $500-a-month client is now consistently among the top 10 Albany revenue generators, despite a client list dominated by not-for-profits and headlined by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. Its groundbreaking approach, which weds traditional lobbying to grass-roots advocacy, multi-media promotions and coalition-building, is viewed as the new wave in capitol influence. “I think more and more people are realizing that the old style of lobbying — the fat guys with fat cigars whispering in someone’s ear — is a thing of the past,” said attorney Arthur N. Malkin, a founding partner. “The future of lobbying is probably what we have been doing for 20-plus years, which is integrating all aspects of advocacy into one campaign and trying to make a case. It’s no longer enough to know the guy who knows the guy. Everybody knows the guy.” Last month, the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying released its 2001 annual report, and as usual Malkin & Ross held a prominent position in the upper tier — seventh, up one spot from the year before. Its revenues jumped from $1.4 million to $1.5 million with a rather eclectic client list. Among its 31 clients are: Advocates for Adult Day Care Services; Association of New York State AIDS Service Programs; Camp Directors Association; Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Coalition for the Homeless; Coalition of New York State Alzheimer’s Associations; Empire State Pride Agenda; Gay Men’s Health Crisis; National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League; Regional Community Service Programs; and, of course, its single biggest client, the Trial Lawyers Association. The trial lawyers’ group accounted for nearly $218,000 of the firm’s income last year. From day one in 1984, Malkin & Ross was a different breed in Albany. Its roots date to the early 1970s, when a couple of young lawyers, Mr. Malkin and Donald K. Ross, cut their teeth in activism by building the New York Public Interest Research Group. Mr. Ross, a Ralph Nader protege, founded NYPIRG and hired Mr. Malkin as his $10,000-a-year lobbyist. “When you lobby for NYPIRG, you learn how to lobby without the traditional resources,” Mr. Malkin said. “You are not working with a large political action committee. You are not working with huge union membership. You learn how to lobby differently.” For a decade, they promoted consumer issues, which often brought them into contact with Mr. DeSantis. Mr. DeSantis worked as a staff lawyer for the Assembly, specializing in consumerism. In the early 1980s, Mr. Malkin and Mr. Ross — despite Mr. DeSantis skepticism — thought their NYPIRG experience was marketable. The idea was to create a lobbying firm that would work only on public interest issues. ISSUES AND VISION “We started with the notion that we could take the same sort of issues we were doing — consumer, environment — and start a law firm, and succeed,” said Mr. Malkin, a Brooklyn native who graduated from the State University of New York at Albany and Northeastern Law School in Boston. Rather than just working the halls of the Legislature, Mr. Malkin and Mr. Ross developed a business that also offered public relations, grass roots organizing, political activism and multi-media campaigns. “One of the things we have learned over the years is that when you are in a fight, the best face to put on an issue is not the lobbyist, but the actual New Yorker whose life is impacted by what the government is doing,” Mr. Malkin said. “The people are the best lobbyists.” In 1989, Mr. DeSantis was looking to leave the Assembly and turned down a law firm offer from Shea & Gould to join Malkin & Ross as an issues advocate at two-thirds of the law practice salary. “In a law firm, whatever they have, you have to do,” said Mr. DeSantis, who grew up in Brooklyn. “In this place, we don’t take clients unless we are philosophically comfortable with the client’s agenda. People tease us and say, ‘Oh, you guys are the true believers,’ as if that is a bad thing. I think it is a good thing to truly believe what you are lobbying for. It makes it easier … . I tell legislators all the time that I am a true believer in tort reform — and tort reform means a date of discovery rule for malpractice victims, HMO liability, a wrongful death law where people can recover non-pecuniary damages.” Malkin & Ross’ entre into the upper echelon of the Albany lobbying community is largely a result of its ties with the Trial Lawyers Association. “If there was any client that was a perfect match with what Donald [Ross] and I were doing, it was the Trial Lawyers,” Mr. Malkin said. “We believe as a firm so deeply in the principles of access to the courtroom that when we take on new clients … we tell them up front that we will not represent them on issues that will cut off access or force juries to make determinations in a particular way.” Malkin & Ross’ philosophy puts the firm squarely at odds with many of major business interests, such as insurance companies, and all advocates for tort reform. “The only way you win fights … where you are so out gunned, outmanned, outspent is to put a human face on it,” Mr. Malkin said. “Ultimately, that message will break through. It won’t break through the first day or even first year. But ultimately, the legislators will come through.” That means taking the battle outside the halls of government and into the living rooms of voters. For example, in addition to traditional lobbying, Malkin & Ross dubbed tort reform the “Wrongdoers Escape Act,” and placed a newspaper advertisement featuring a very likable high school football star who was paralyzed in an automobile accident, allegedly due to a seat belt defect. Tort reform, the ad contended, would have shut the youth out of the civil justice system. They were clearly playing on public sympathy. ‘ANNOYING’ APPROACH Mark P. Alesse, lobbyist for New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform, a coalition of advocates for changes in tort law, said he finds Malkin & Ross’s approach “annoying in the extreme.” “Their ads refer to people who support tort reform as ‘wrongdoers,’” Mr. Alesse said. “I take objection to the notion that anybody who sees the flaws in our civil justice system is somehow to be characterized as a ‘wrongdoer.’ And it hasn’t done one thing for their cause, nothing, except demonstrate that they can be outrageous, which is typical of NYPIRG-ians. They specialize in the outrageous, but they don’t accomplish much.” At the same time, Mr. Alesse describes Mr. Malkin as a “decent guy with great intentions, motivations and values. He’s just wrong on the issues … . Is he effective? I don’t think so.” The tort reform agenda promoted by Mr. Alesse has failed to gain traction, but the lobbyist said there are far more complicated reasons than Malkin & Ross for his group’s inability to win over the Legislature. Malkin & Ross is confident in its strategy and has undertaken public advocacy campaigns to battle proposed legislation that would have permitted for-profit credit counseling and denied labor protections to casino workers. It regularly employs similar methods to promote environmental and consumer legislation such as HMO liability, lemon law protections, item pricing and private right of action. “We’re like St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes,” Mr. DeSantis quipped. In 1990, Malkin & Ross took its approach national and spun off an affiliated company, M & R Strategic Services, which handles government affairs and media relations campaigns from offices in Washington, D.C., Manhattan and locations in Oregon and Montana. In Albany, Mr. Malkin and Mr. DeSantis are the lead lobbyists. Mr. Ross primarily works outside Albany running M & R Strategic Services. In recent years, a number of organizations have fundamentally altered the way the lobbying business is conducted in Albany. Increasingly, according to the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, lobbyists are taking their battles public with sophisticated and costly multi-media campaigns. Of course, that approach works best on issues where it benefits the client to be out front. Other matters, lobbyists say, are best handled as quietly as possible. Malkin & Ross, however, usually prefers to function smack-dab in the middle of the radar screen, as evidenced by the fact that it has an on-site, full-time media expert: Colleen Ryan. Ms. Ryan is not a lobbyist, and her role is in communications, not legislative influence, at least not directly. “Our clients generally do better in the glare of the public eye,” Mr. Malkin said. “We would rather have our battles fought in the media, because by and large our clients benefit from public exposure.”

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