The lobby outside the New York State Senate Chamber in the State Capitol in Albany, where lobbyists gather when the Senate is in session. (Alan Solomon)
ALBANY – Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker remained the unquestioned king of the lobbying hill in Albany in 2013 thanks to a varied client list that includes hospitals, car dealers, accounting firms and horse tracks.
The firm reported total compensation and expenses of just under $10.4 million last year, according to the mandated financial reports that registered lobbyists make to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). The commission has taken over the regulation of the lobbying industry following the disbandment of the Temporary Commission on Lobbying in 2007 and the Ethics Commission in 2011.
Overall, total spending on lobbying for the year was $210 million, up from $205 million in 2012 but down from the $220 million in the highest-spending year on record, 2011.
While still near record highs, increases in spending on lobbying in Albany have slowed this decade compared with the previous 10 years. Average annual spending on lobbying the past four years has been $212 million, compared to the annual average of $100 million from 2000-04 and $173 million from 2005-09.
The New York Public Interest Research Group’s legislative director, Blair Horner, said lobbyists continue to prosper because those trying to influence the system believe they need lobbyists to get their positions across to state leaders.
“The lobbying industry has weathered no economic storms,” Horner said. “It is one of the rare, gravity-defying successful industries in upstate New York.”
Horner’s group has complained to JCOPE that the state Democratic Committee should have been included in the lobbying reports, arguing that the Democrats spent $5 million or more promoting aspects of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda through television commercials in the last few months of 2013.
The spending was detailed in reports to the state Board of Elections but is not classified as lobbying by JCOPE.
If counted as lobbying, Horner said the Democratic Committee spending on pro-Cuomo ads would have easily outdistanced the $3 million spent by Altria Client Services and its affiliates, which was the highest spending on lobbying by any entity in 2013.
The Altria Group is the name of the Philip Morris Companies. Horner said the bulk of its spending in 2013 was in New York City to fight anti-public smoking efforts by then mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Wilson Elser is the perennial lobbying leader in Albany, with 2013 being the 17th straight year it led in lobbying income.
Wilson Elser’s managing partner in Albany, Kenneth Shapiro, said the loyalty of the firm’s clients accounts for its continuing domination of the city’s lobbying industry.
Its 161 clients last year include many who have been with the firm for several years such as Black Rock, Deloitte & Touche, Entergy, Ernst & Young, the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, the Healthcare Association of New York State, the Metropolitan Parking Association, New York University and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
“What we have done is maintained our client base and the only way to do that is if people are satisfied,” Shapiro, a former counsel to the speaker in the Assembly, said.
Shapiro said he believes that over the years, lobbyists in Albany have become more professional.
“Remember, I have seen both sides of it,” he said. “At one point in time, I recall when I was being lobbied and there were people who came into the office who were totally ill prepared. Right now when you are looking at your competition, you had better be prepared because you will find that they are. It think that lobbyists today are stronger and better educated.”
Wilson Elser’s closest competitors in 2013 were Kasiser Consulting ($6,450,302) and Greenberg Traurig ($6,191,755).
Among the top 10 firms, Park Strategies was the biggest gainer in stature in 2013, increasing its total compensation from $3,704,416 in 2012 to $5,996,250 in 2013 and moving from eighth most successful lobbyist to fourth.
Park’s managing director is Alfonse D’Amato, the former U.S. senator.
Patricia Lynch Associates fell from second place on the 2012 list to sixth place last year, and its compensation and reimbursement slipped from $6,719,291 to $5,540,251.
The Lynch firm experienced federal tax troubles in 2009 and laid off employees in 2013. Its principal is Patricia Lynch, the one-time top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.