A new City Council legislative package would make it harder for high-ranking city officials to cash in on lucrative lobbying gigs as soon as they leave public service.
The two bills that will be introduced to the Council on Thursday would increase the length of time and scope of lobbying restrictions that apply to certain former municipal employees and local elected officials. Currently, top former city officials like deputy mayors and commissioners face a two-year ban from lobbying and appearing before their former agency or branch of government.
The proposed legislation would extend that two-year ban to lobbying or doing work involving any part of city government. If passed, the bills could have major implications for former city employees seeking to leverage their connections with government in a lucrative space. Under the proposals, a two-year ban could level the playing field for city employees turned lobbyists seeking face time with old colleagues from the Council, the mayor’s office or other government agencies on behalf of clients.
“We have a revolving door that allows people in the highest levels of city government, in the most powerful positions in the city of New York to walk out of City Hall and start lobbying the people that they hired, that reported to them, the people they were in the trenches with, the very next day,” said Brooklyn Democratic Councilmember Lincoln Restler, the lead sponsor of the bills and a former special assistant in the Office of the Mayor under the previous administration.
“As somebody who’s worked in the mayor’s office and has seen the kind of insidious influence that lobbyists and former senior officials can have in the administrations where they worked, we have to close these loopholes today,” added Restler.
A 2022 annual report by the city clerk’s office shows lobbying local government is big business in New York City, with firms netting $104 million for their services from clients seeking to influence agencies.
The proposals come on the heels of two top-level departures from Mayor Eric Adams’ administration this month, including Chief of Staff Frank Carone and First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo.
Carone has already announced plans to launch a global consulting firm, as first reported by Politico New York. However, he told the outlet he will not “interact with City Hall” and that he does not personally intend to lobby. In a text message to Gothamist, Carone said he had “no concerns at all” about the proposed regulations.
He cited three decades working on behalf of clients within the bounds of the current laws. Prior to becoming chief of staff, Carone was a partner at the Abrams Fensterman law firm, which was hired by lobbyists to assist them in their work. He also built a pipeline of influence over the years as a lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party and a commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
“If, however, the rules change, then I will do the same, following whatever the law so requires,” Carone added.
Other former city officials have also gone on to set up their own lobbying firms. Former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson launched CoJo Strategies LLC last year and has represented at least 10 clients, including Vornado Realty, Northwell Health and the Central Park Conservancy, in matters before city agencies such as the mayor’s office, the Human Resources Administration and the Department of City Planning, lobbying records show.
This legislation would prohibit all of those activities.
Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The proposals would make changes to the City Charter, specifically related to “post-employment restrictions.”
The new rules would also extend restrictions to some 2,500 city employees placed on the Conflicts of Interest Board’s annual "substantial policy discretion" list — those deemed to have major influence on policymaking for a specific agency. Those on the list currently face a one-year lobbying ban after leaving their role. The proposal calls for a two-year ban that would apply to senior policymakers from the mayor’s office, the City Council, the budget office and the Law Department. On top of the two-year ban, the proposed bills would prevent former employees from lobbying any city agency for a year.
Other senior policymakers from all other city agencies would be banned from appearing before all of city government for one year and their former city agency for two years.
There are 11 co-sponsors of the legislation in the Council, including a mix of left-leaning members like Jennifer Gutiérrez, Chi Ossé and Julie Won, along with more moderate Democrats like Robert Holden and Kalman Yeger.
The legislation also has support from good government advocates, including Common Cause New York and NYPIRG
“We think the revolving door should spin slowly so people are not able to cash in on their hot contacts as soon as they walk out the door,” said Blair Horner, head of NYPIRG.
He said the idea of placing more significant time-limits on the ability to lobby or appear before city government is something that generally makes sense for people who recently departed a government position.
The proposed changes would more closely align the city’s rules with the restrictions that are currently in effect for state employees, who are generally banned for two years from appearing before the agency where they worked.