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Where’s Bill Mahoney?

September 11, 2014

Four years ago, we wrote a piece defending Jennifer Cunningham against what we thought was a cheap shot by the Cuomo people.  Ms. Cunningham, whom we regard as a very gracious person, was scorched in one of those NY Post articles that are long on innuendo and short on facts. The piece was planted by the Governor and his people. It came at time when the Governor and Fred Dicker were having their bromance.

We thought it was bad form for Cuomo to take such a shot at someone who’d been a key part of his political operation and a longtime friend. Ms. Cunningham actually served as his campaign manager in 2006 and to our knowledge has never offered a critical word about Cuomo.

But there was a break in their relationship. It occurred when Ms. Cunningham went to work for Attorney General candidate Eric Schneiderman, who also happens to be her ex-husband and the father of her child.  (Albany is a small world.)

The substance of the original Post article was that Ms. Cunningham had a conflict of interest in working as both a campaign consultant and lobbyist.  After the article appeared, Ms. Cunningham declared that she’d no longer be engaged in lobbying, but instead would concentrate on her work as a consultant to health care companies, as well as unions, liberal groups, political candidates and others.

Fast forward to last month, that’s when a Crains reporter asked the Attorney General’s office for emails between Ms. Cunningham and AG Schneiderman.  At first, the response from the AG’s office was that the emails were not subject to FOIL. The office later reversed itself and released some, but not all, of the emails.

What the emails apparently show is that Ms. Cunningham has had discussions with the AG directly and with AG staff members about her clients.  She has also arranged meetings for her clients with the AG and his staff, and she has attended those meetings.

As much as we like Ms. Cunningham, it’s hard for us to believe that these activities are appropriate.  Why?  Because a consultant is supposed to be someone who provides general advice and guidance to a client. This individual is not supposed engage policymakers and elected officials on the clients’ behalf.  This individual is not supposed to take a client to a meeting with policymakers and elected officials.  This individual is not supposed to advocate for the client and urge a policymaker or elected official to take action. After all, that’s exactly what a lobbyist does, and they have to registered to do so.

Now the defense from Ms. Cunningham and people who support her is that it’s actually ok if she engages in all of these activities, but stops short of actually urging the policymaker or elected official to take action.

Let’s be honest here. That’s not even a fig leaf.

She can’t call up the person she was once married to and whom she currently advises politically and talk about client matters.  You can’t describe a client’s needs and wishes and think you haven’t lobbied because you didn’t conclude the conversation with a specific request for action. The request for action is implied and obvious.

What’s happening here is that people are retaining Ms. Cunningham’s firm to gain access to Schneiderman’s office.  They are paying her tens of millions of dollars for that. Those payments aren’t being disclosed because it’s called consulting, not lobbying.

Again, we really hate to be harsh to Ms. Cunningham, but this is incredibly wrong. And all you have to do to know that it’s wrong is to flip it around.

Think of what Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu would be saying about Governor Cuomo if someone close to him was making millions through pseudo-lobbying.

Think of the expose the New York Times would write if it was Cuomo’s ex-wife instead of Schneiderman’s.

Think of the hyperventilating report that the Fair Elections people would write about the scenario if a Senate Republican’s ex-wife was involved.

Where’s Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG? Where’s Blair Horner?

Where are all those disgruntled Moreland folks who decry conduct that is legal but so appalling wrong?

Come to think of it, where’s Preet?

But there isn’t a peep from any of the people who profess to be so outraged about the influence of money in politics. And why is that?

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