New York State

Takeaways from JCOPE’s 2021 New York lobbying report

Lobbying spending reached almost $293 million in 2021, according to a new report from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The hospital association, United Teachers and Doordash were among top clients.

Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

New York state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics is officially dead, but the embattled ethics agency left us a few parting gifts before it passed. 

The first is an internal report on how Gov. Andrew Cuomo was allowed to write his premature pandemic leadership guide. The second is the commission’s annual report on how much money was spent lobbying state and local lawmakers in 2021, whose behalf it was on and which high-powered firms raked in the most dough.

Some of the findings in the 2021 lobbying report weren’t all that surprising. Health care reigned supreme in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Greater New York Hospital Association as the highest spending client. But there were some new big spenders in the mix too, including the South Street Seaport Limited Partnership and the food delivery platform Doordash.

Here are some of the key takeaways in the 2021 report.

The lobbying game is alive and well in New York

Despite seeing a significant dip in lobbying spending in 2020 as the pandemic took hold, overall spending last year jumped over 9%, nearing the prepandemic high of $298.1 million spent in 2019. Total spending in 2021 reached $292.9 million.

Top firms maintain their power

Three lobbying firms – Brown & Weinraub, Kasirer and Bolton St. Johns – can reliably be found topping the list of the most highly compensated firms in New York, and their hold over New York didn’t falter in 2021. Brown & Weinraub ranked first ($15,480,791 in compensation), Kasirer second ($15,456,993), and Bolton St. Johns third ($14,169,449). The three are listed as having business with some of the year’s top clients, including the Greater New York Hospital Association, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and Doordash.

South Street Seaport Limited Partnership, Doordash and RXR spend big

The ranking of biggest spenders in the state was topped with some familiar groups including the Greater New York Hospital Association ($5,448,219 in spending), Success Academy Charter Schools ($2,008,949) and AARP ($1,936,320). But some new entities – including the South Street Seaport Limited Partnership ($1,698,926 in spending), Doordash ($1,296,969) and RXR Development Services ($1,109,193) – cracked the top ten too. The report notes that the South Street Seaport Limited Partnership and RXR’s spending was focused on construction and real estate development. Labor issues were among Doordash’s top focuses. Doordash, and other gig economy platforms like Uber and Lyft, have fought vigorously against a push to reclassify gig workers as employees – here and across the rest of the country.

Labor issues are a key focus for clients

It wasn’t just Doordash focusing on labor issues in 2021. Labor was the top issue for the 10 highest spending lobbying entities, the report found, including the Greater New York Hospital Association, AARP, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and New York State United Teachers. 

47,434 state bills were directly lobbied on

Though lobbyists’ activities involve more than just trying to sway lawmakers’ votes on legislation, direct lobbying on bills is often the bread and butter of the profession. In 2021, 47,434 bills were directly lobbied on, and the number is even higher when including executive orders, procurements and other actions that lobbyists attempt to influence.