I-Team 10 investigation: Lawmakers vs. lobbyists

Posted at: 05/31/2013 3:02 PM
Updated at: 05/31/2013 7:27 PM

When you go to the polls, you want to know that the person that got your vote is looking out for your best interests. But a New York Public Interest Research Group report suggests lobbyists spent more than a million dollars trying to influence those same lawmakers.

Today we learned how much each of our lawmakers legally raised in funds from lobbying groups. The report spells it out and good government groups fear these contributions could be influencing legislation that comes up for a vote.  

Getting elected can be an expensive proposition and frequently, candidates for state senate or assembly are more than willing to accept big checks from lobbying groups to do so.

Today the New York Public Interest Research Group issued a report. It breaks down how much money Rochester-area legislators received in contributions last year from people who seek to influence state government.

In 2012, lobbyists and their clients contributed more than $1.4-million to area elected officials -- that's almost double what individuals gave to them.

The top five on the receiving end are Senator George Maziarz who collected $246,000 to Michael Nozzolio whose campaign received $120,000.

Bill Mahoney is NYPIRG's research coordinator. “We also took a look at some of the bills these legislators actually introduced in 2012 and found that there certainly was some overlap where many of the bills these legislators introduced were actually supported or in some case benefited the people who were giving to them."

But Assemblyman Joe Morelle says they work within the rules of the system that's set up and try to do it honorably. “To the extent that people contribute to the campaign, hopefully it's because they think you're doing a reasonable job. They think you're approachable. They think you're willing to have an open mind and to weigh arguments and that's what I hope I do."

News10NBC said, “The report lists two pieces of legislation you put forth that benefited lobbying groups that gave you money. Were you not influenced by those contributions or how do you explain that?” Morelle replied, “Well, typically what you might find is people would be willing to contribute to a campaign after you've done something so they support it and the decided to express their support in some way. I can tell you this, no one has ever suggested they would contribute to a campaign in return for introducing a piece of legislation or voting on a piece of legislation."

NYPIRG meantime has called for campaign finance reform, but Mahoney says some lawmakers don't seem motivated to change anything. “Right now there's been deafening silence from many of the leaders in Albany about not wanting to fix the problem. There are things like campaign contribution reforms that they don't want to touch because it makes it tougher to run for re-election."

Click here to read the report

Campaign Finance (Board of Elections)

Senator Ted O'Brien:
"I am committed to campaign and ethics reform in New York State.  I was invited to testify at the Attorney General's hearing on campaign reform and I am very supportive of enhanced disclosure requirements, new limits on how campaign funds can be used and consequences for lawmakers who violate the public trust by misusing that money. When it comes to policy-making, I am motivated by the concerns of the people of my district.  Whether meeting with people at community events or just having a friendly conversation with other parents at my daughter's lacrosse games -- those voices always have the strongest influence on my priorities as a legislator."

Senator George Maziarz:
"This report arrives at no new or surprising conclusions, but it is useful in providing the public with data about campaign donations.  When it comes to policymaking, though, the best interests of my district are what motivates me.  My door is always open to my constituents. Still, it is important to remember that individuals, businesses, and organizations have a right to make campaign contributions. And those of us who aren’t millionaires and who can’t self-finance our campaigns have to fundraise.  In New York these donations are regulated and scrutinized closely—as they should be. Our system is better than the alternative, which is making taxpayers foot the bill for robo-calls and attack ads through the public financing of elections."

Senator Joe Robach
"I have always been a strong supporter of making all aspects of an elected official’s campaign finance activity open and transparent to the public and allowing the Board of Elections to enforce campaign finance rules to the fullest extent.  While financing campaigns is an important aspect for those running for public office, I am an ardent believer that strong constituent service and face to face contact is the most effective way to being a successful candidate.    I also believe the first step to taking money out of politics is to limit spending by campaigns.  For this reason, I recently introduced a bill, S5601, that would limit how much a campaign can spend in state legislative races."