Robert Jackson has been lobbying for Big Styrofoam

Former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson is running for state Senate.
Former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson is running for state Senate.
William Alatriste/For the New York City Council
Former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson is running for state Senate.

Robert Jackson has been lobbying for Big Styrofoam

The state Senate candidate lobbied the New York City Council.
July 12, 2018

State Senate candidate Robert Jackson has made more than $100,000 since 2015 lobbying for a styrofoam company with potential regulatory matters before the state Legislature.

Jackson has been registered to lobby the New York City Council on behalf of the Dart Container Corporation since March 2016, making $104,000 in this time, according to public filings. He also reported making between $20,000 and $50,000 as a Dart consultant in 2015.

Jackson told City & State that his contract with Dart ended on June 30. That’s just a few weeks after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would ban the use of expanded polystyrene foam containers in most cases, ending a years-long battle between the city – which passed the ban in 2013 – and foam companies such as Dart that got the law held up in court.

Jackson’s relationship with Dart goes back to the early stages of that fight in 2013. As Crain’s New York Business reported, then-City Councilman Jackson helped incorporate into the ban a requirement that the city explore the viability of recycling foam containers – a move that led to a judge blocking the ban’s implementation because the city had failed to meet that requirement. Dart and other interests then thanked him with a $13,000 mailer supporting his unsuccessful run for Manhattan Borough President in 2013.

But Dart isn’t just lobbying for its interests in the New York City Council. It has also advocated in the state Legislature, where Jackson hopes to be serving next year. Dart spent $486,000 on lobbying statewide in 2017, according to filings with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. It fought local bills that would ban foam containers, in New York City, Albany County and elsewhere, but Dart also lobbied against a number of state bills that would have limited the use of the polystyrene containers that Dart manufactures.

A good government group told City & State it hoped that Jackson would insulate himself from Dart. "Robert Jackson should make clear to voters how he will handle this relationship with his former client if he is elected to the State Senate,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany. “If elected, we think he should voluntarily not meet with Dart or sponsor any legislation substantially impacting Dart for at least one legislation session."

Jackson hasn’t made such a pledge yet. I have not even considered any of those options whatsoever,” he said on a phone call. “My most important thing right now is to get elected to the New York state Senate. That’s my most important thing right now.”

A spokesman for the Jackson campaign, Richard Fife, followed up over text message, saying Jackson “takes the integrity of the office very seriously and would take whatever actions appropriate to prevent doing anything to undermine or jeopardize this trust.”

Lawmakers and other state employees are banned from lobbying for two years after leaving office, but there are no legal restrictions when a lobbyist becomes a lawmaker.

Jackson is running as a Democrat in state Senate District 31, hoping to unseat state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference. Jackson has earned high profile endorsements in the race, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Working Families Party and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Though Jackson has been a City Council lobbyist, a spokesman for Johnson said Jackson had never spoken to the speaker about Dart Container Corporation.

Jackson lists the environment as one of the main issues on his campaign website, though he seems to disagree with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, which support banning polystyrene foam. On his website, Jackson touts his support of banning fracking in New York state. Though Jackson only lobbied for Dart on foam issues, an affiliated company, Dart Oil & Gas, engages in fracking.

Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.