Snooping Through The 'Lobbies' Of City Hall – QNS.com

Snooping Through The ‘Lobbies’ Of City Hall

There’s a new website out there that may be of interest to anyone who is interested in the public’s right to know.
It was announced by the mayor last week that the New York City government’s official website (www.nyc.gov) now has a page dedicated to lobbyists, those groups who advocate on behalf of companies or causes to the elected officials of our city and state.
It’s a booming business, with retainer fees and political contributions heading through the roof in recent years. In 2004, over $30 million was spent on lobbyists in the city alone.
Now, with this website (which also allows a search of any vendors doing business with the city) any John Q. Citizens can go online at 3 a.m. and find out just who Bolton-St. John’s is representing before the City Council delegation (for those of you up at 3 a.m. wondering this kind of thing, I suggest a hobby… or perhaps a Tylenol PM).
“This is a big victory for open government,” Mayor Mike said upon the announcement of the website (www.nyc.gov/bizsearch). “The lobbying industry has nearly tripled in the last five years, but access to its public records has been severely limited… we have created a user-friendly database that will put information about the activities of lobbyists, previously available only in paper form, at the fingertips of anyone with access to the Internet.”
Well bully for this, I say.
It may not mean much to many out there, but this is a terrific example of good government at work. The ability to keep tabs on companies and lobbyists, not to mention those elected officials, and keep an eye out for possible conflicts of interest is the key to an effective and trusted government.
And it’s a really neat toy for the press to play with when we’re bored.
For reaction, I called up the king of good government — former parks commish and current head of New York Civic, Henry Stern.
Turns out he had just finished penning his most recent column about said lobbyists and all the hub-bub that’s been in the press the last few weeks about them (All four major dailies have run stories on lobbyists over the past month — some really not-so-flattering).
Starquest, as he is known, says lobbying is really not even necessary.
“People see the other people doing it and they rush to do it themselves,” Stern said. “Look, I don’t want to take away anyone’s bread and butter, but there’s a lot of ignorance out there about lobbying.
Stern went on to say that it was the little guys who were really taking a bath in this business.
“It’s not right for cultural instituations and non-profits to have to contribute to this in order to get their share and avoid their budget being cut. There’s something not right about that.
And he summed up lobbying with one, simple analogy, which is why you have to love him.
“If you give money to the local zoo, you want your money to go toward feeding the animals, not to feed your local councilmember.”
This new website will help keep track of who keeps going back to the trough.

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