New York Wants Political PR Firms To Report To Government What They Do

government public relations

Four firms represented by Emery Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP, a New York City law firm, recently sent a follow-up letter to the Director of Lobbying and FDS Compliance and Senior Counsel, Martin Levin, Esq., for New York State Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE).

The four firms, Stu Loeser & Co., Anat Gerstein, Inc., BerlinRosen, and Risa Heller Communications are concerned about how New York’s cew advisory opinion could classify Public Relations professionals working in the political arena as lobbyists.

The bill requires anyone paid to help sway public policy for clients to share certain information. This information includes fees paid by clients, names of the clients, the bill in question, and whether they intend to help pass or defeat the bill. JCOPE’s proposal would also cover people hired to help candidates win elections. As a result, a larger number of PR professionals would need to register with JCOPE.

In their letter, the PR pros address the “substantive and strategic input on the content of a message” language regarding lobbying/PR firms, which says they have a “meaningful role in either the creation or approval of [a particular] message.”

They claim in their Letter that implementing these changes would “be impractical because it would require the Commission to investigate and “draw lines” with respect to every turn of phrase or statement uttered by a client or its representative, to determine whether a particular consultant did or did not have a meaningful role…”

Further, they have concerns about JCOPE’s list of 10 examples of those who are exempt from the rules, saying, “Absent from the list are countless types of consultants who “participat[e] in both the content and delivery” of campaign messages, and who arguably engage in more than ‘mere editing.’” Some who the four PR firms believe would be included are marketing experts, speaking coaches, graphic designers, and more.

The group suggests, in their Letter, that JCOPE revise their definition of those that “control” applicable information to the public, so it includes “only individuals at whose direction, and by whose authority, and on whose behalf such communications are made.”

The letter also raises issues about “earned media” being included as speaking with others to sway the opinion of public officials. Since earned media, comes about when PR firms (or others) present information to journalists and other media representatives, who then determine what if anything of that message will be reported.

The four agencies, Stu Loeser & Co., Anat Gerstein, Inc., BerlinRosen, and Risa Heller Communications, feel strongly “earned media” has no place in JCOPE’s proposed regulations as there is no direct contact with public officials when using earned media and such media is filtered by the media as an independent third party.

These strategic PR firms, are often working in the political arena. Crainsnewyork.com reports, “Mr. Rosen is not a registered lobbyist. Yet he regularly meets with government officials. The mayor’s schedule from his first five months in office shows Mr. Rosen was in at least nine meetings and on two calls.”

Risa Heller Communications is less defined on what services they offer, their website is just a contact page without further information, but according to politico.com, in 2010, “A reader forwards an e-mail sent earlier today announcing that Sen. Chuck Schumer’s former communications director Risa Heller has started her own business, Risa Heller Communications. Heller was with Schumer for years, before doing a stint as Gov. David Paterson’s communications director…” so she clearly had deep political connections as she started her firm.

Prior to Mr. Loeser starting his agency, a strategic communications firm, he worked for over six years for Michael Bloomberg during his time as mayor of New York City, and Anat Gerstein’s company is a full-service communications/PR firm. Her website reports prior to starting her firm, she served as “chief of staff and press secretary to New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, provided public relations services to top healthcare companies, including Eli Lilly and Cigna, developed effective communications materials for social service and other non-profits, and promoted political candidates at the state and local level.”

Since firms registered as lobbying must meet stricter guidelines, it has long been a source of contention between those registered firms and those others perceive as possibly lobbying under the radar. JCOPE’s guidelines are meant to make lobbying efforts more transparent and trackable. However, the four firms have a point when it comes to clarifying the language, removing vagueness and setting well-defined guidelines.

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