The Most Powerful Firm in New York Politics Is…

You know this one.

BerlinRosen, of course.

berlin rosen

NY1 produced a very interesting report at EOD yesterday about “the fuzzy line” between New York’s political establishment and firms like Berlin Rosen. The piece concerns principal Jonathan Rosen and his relationships with some of the city’s top officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (whose election Rosen facilitated) and disgraced/indicted speaker Sheldon Silver.

The main idea behind the piece is that BerlinRosen, like many other firms, advises both politicians and the advocacy groups and businesses trying to influence them — which creates potential conflicts of interest.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, a “government watchdog” organization, sums it up while clarifying that BerlinRosen itself is not “the problem”:

“We have real questions about the role of outside consultants advising elected officials who have public staff to advise them on strategy and communications ideas.

When you substitute private influence and privately paid advisors, you lose the public.”

de Blasio’s administration classifies Rosen as “a trusted friend and close confidant” without quite addressing the fact that he is advising the mayor directly on policy matters while simultaneously representing some of the real estate firms working with de Blasio on housing policy.

But the regulations on this type of business are often less than clear. As one veteran lobbyist puts it, “there’s no laws being broken; they’re doing what everyone else has always done. OF COURSE [clients] are hiring them because they’re connected to City Hall.”

De Blasio Conference

A local politician says that, while BerlinRosen has often introduced him to its clients (which are most often nonprofits), the firm has never specifically pushed him on any given piece of legislation. Still, there’s little doubt that some clients benefit directly from the firm’s relationship with various area politicians.

Unnamed “government watchdogs” say this sort of work is “ripe for reform” without going into further detail.

Will politicians stop hiring outside firms that do not answer to taxpayers? Of course not. But the practice will almost certainly not lead to greater trust in public institutions.

The video report is not embeddable, but it’s very much worth watching.