Total drops $6.1M to a total of $167.8M in recession year

Section: Main,  Page: A3

Date: Friday, April 23, 2010

ALBANY -- Things are worse than we thought.

In a nearly unprecedented phenomenon, the amount of money spent on lobbying in the state Capitol actually fell 3.5 percent last year, going from $173.9 million in 2008 to $167.8 million in 2009. The data comes from the state Commission on Public Integrity, which tracks and attempts to police the influence industry.

It's only the second time that lobbying expenditures have fallen since the state started keeping records in 1978. The other drop came between 1999 and 2000, when expenditures went from $72 million to $66 million.

Most of the drop was attributed to a bad economy in 2009, say observers -- including some lobbyists.

Traditionally, lobbying has been considered to be almost recession-proof, with the amounts spent rising steadily for decades.

But last year was different. If a particular business or interest wasn't facing any major changes in laws or regulations, they pulled back on their lobbying expenditures, which include both the cost of hiring lobbyists and reimbursements for expenses, said several people in the industry.

Last year also came after two particularly intensive lobbying years in 2007 and 2008, the period in which Gov. Eliot Spitzer was attempting to cut health care spending -- prompting hospitals, unions and others to gear up their political outreach efforts.

"You have to look at what happened the year before, at what the controversial issues were," said Ken Shapiro, managing director at Wilson Elser, which was paid and reimbursed the most money last year at $10,876,601, the CPI report said.

Indeed, lobbying expenditures jumped from $151 million to $171 million between 2006 and 2007, which marked the changeover from the Pataki to Spitzer administrations.

Last year, Patricia Lynch Associates was Albany's second-biggest biller, at $8,456,806, followed by Bolton St. Johns at $5,359,600.

Despite the overall downturn, both Wilson Elser and Lynch brought in more money in 2009 than in 2008.

Lynch last year had 183 clients, followed by Wilson Elser at 161 and Greenberg Traurig at 108.

From the client side, New York State United Teachers spent the most on lobbying, at approximately $3.5 million, followed by Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, which pushed for mayoral control of the schools in New York City, at $3 million.

The third biggest spender was the 1199/SEIU & GNYHA Healthcare Education Project, which represents health care workers and groups at $2.3 million.

Ranked by industry, health care topped the list of expenditures at $30.6 million, followed by construction and real estate at $22.6 million and education at $13.9 million.

Reach Rick Karlin at 454-5758 or by e-mail at