Republican and Democratic Nassau County lawmakers proposed competing lobbying disclosure bills this week, days after news broke that federal authorities are investigating New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the business dealings of his son, Adam.
On Monday, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, was first out of the gate with a press release announcing a bill that would require lobbyists for entities seeking contracts with Nassau government to register with the County Attorney “for the first-time in history.” The next day, Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the county legislature’s Democratic minority leader, held a news conference to tout his party’s own lobbying disclosure legislation.
“This new law will bring additional transparency by requiring contractors and vendors to disclose their lobbying activities—by registering with the County Attorney and Clerk of the Legislature—and file annual and quarterly reports, which will be available on the county website,” said Mangano in a statement.
Under the current law, contracts require approval by the county attorney, the county legislature, the comptroller and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. But Nassau does not have any lobbying disclosures like that of neighboring Suffolk County, New York City and the state.
The Democrats said their proposal is more thorough than Mangano’s.
“Although any disclosure is a helpful start, what we really need, that our bill provides today, is clarification that will force clear disclosure of relationships and communications between consultants and lobbyists, County employees and elected officials,” Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said in a statement. “The administration’s bill only requires lobbyists, a term which is hard to define… Each contract has to clearly delineate any relationship between the County and the prospective participant in said contract.”
The focus on lobbying reforms stems from a report in The New York Times that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was looking into the actions of Sen. Skelos and his son, Adam, who had been hired as a consultant to an Arizona company, AbTech Industries, that was awarded a lucrative storm-water treatment contract by the Nassau legislature with no questions asked.
No charges have been filed and the federal investigation is ongoing, sources say. AbTech said in a Facebook post the day after the Times story broke that it “is a company of integrity and transparency, from its executive officers to its field employees.” Also a day after the report, the Nassau County district attorney’s office announced an overall review of the county’s contract bidding process.
The dueling proposals come despite the fact that Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement last week that “Nassau County has the most transparent process known to government” in response to a request to confirm reports that the county executive had testified before the grand jury.
But the approval process of the AbTech contract has since raised concerns, because Adam Skelos’ connection to the company was not disclosed before lawmakers approved it.
“Our hope is that this legislation will avoid another ‘AbTech’ and clearly inform the public and County Legislature who exactly is influencing the award of hundreds of millions of dollars of County contracts annually,” said Abrahams. “We have been calling upon the County to take further steps to bring real disclosure measures for some time and it has fallen on deaf ears. It’s time County lawmakers work bi-partisanly to bring transparency measures that will bring public integrity back to governing here in Nassau.”