N.Y. Legislators Must Pay Party Tab, Court Says

Posted August 30, 2004 at 5:35pm

This week’s Republican convention in New York will be a blast for the 50,000 Members of Congress, delegates and journalists who have gathered in the Big Apple — but not necessarily for the dozens of New York state lawmakers who drove 150 miles down the New York State Thruway from Albany.

Last month, New York’s lobbying commission ruled that state lawmakers and officials cannot attend events surrounding the convention if they cost more than $75 a head to put on.

Since most of the corporate-funded parties and concerts cost well over $75 per person — with some affairs reaching as high as $500 a head — state lawmakers and officials may find themselves spending a lot of time in their hotel rooms or reaching into their own wallets to pay their own way.

The decision also has meant headaches for some companies that had invited state lawmakers to attend events this week.

Drug maker Pfizer, for example, told New York lawmakers who had been planning to attend a Wednesday luncheon with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani they would have to pay $250 to comply with the ruling.

New York’s $75 gift ban has been on the books since 1999, but many corporations and New York public officials had expected the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying to waive the rule during the Republican convention.

“The Lobbying Act prohibits gifts from lobbyists or their clients to public officials in excess of $75 unless it’s a charitable or political event,” said Kris Thompson, a spokesman for the commission.

In an Aug. 3 statement, the lobbying commission said the events surrounding the convention are not considered “political” and therefore remain covered by the gift ban.

The decision was made after the Bush-Cheney campaign’s counsel for New York requested a ruling on the matter.

In response to the ruling, Pfizer informed the legislators invited to the company’s luncheon that it would not be able to cover the entire cost of the lunch, estimated to hit $326 per person.

“The ‘Tribute to Rudolph W. Giuliani’ sponsored by Pfizer Inc., to which you have been invited, does not meet the commission’s definition of a ‘political event,’” the company wrote in its letter to lawmakers that included a $250 bill for the lunch.

“Proof of payment may be required before you are admitted to the Tribute,” the Pfizer letter concluded.

Pfizer spokeswoman Darlene Taylor said the company wrote the letter “in order to make sure that public officials from New York would know what the rules were. We wanted to be proactive and tell them that this event is not exempted from the gift ban.”

Aside from the Pfizer luncheon, it is unclear how many corporate-sponsored events will be affected by the decision.

Verizon Communications, for example, only invited members of New York’s Congressional delegation to a reception it is holding, not state officials.

“It really doesn’t have an impact on us because … the New York law applies to state and city public officials,” said Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey.

Though Verizon has invited New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki to speak at the reception for the New York delegation, they are expected to appear briefly, if at all.

“They would not be staying for the entire event itself, so they would not exceed the $75 limit,” Hoey said.

Bloomberg and Pataki also made appearances at Time Warner’s 5,000-person media party on Saturday, which cost nearly $400 a person.

A spokeswoman for Time Warner said Bloomberg helped pay for the party.

Nick Calio, the chief lobbyist for Citibank, said his firm decided to sidestep the issue entirely.

“We made the determination just to not invite state lawmakers,” Calio said.