One of the most vocal opponents to New York University’s 2 million square foot expansion plans, the non-profit Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, registered this year as a lobbyist following quiet criticism that it was skirting the law by not filing as one.
The group including its executive director, Andrew Berman, and five other employees, registered as lobbyists with the city’s Office of City Clerk, and the group reported the cost of its lobbying during the first half of 2012 was just over $10,800, city records show.
The City Council’s land use committee is slated to vote Tuesday on the NYU plan, which was approved by the City Planning Commission with minor revisions in June, but which Berman’s Greenwich Village group opposes.
“GVSHP registered as a lobbying organization with the city this year for the first time because for the first time we have four very large ULURPs [land-use reviews] taking place in our neighborhood,” Berman said in a statement to The Real Deal.
He added that in recent years, “GVSHP has closely reviewed its activities to make sure it is in full compliance with the new, much stricter reporting regulations for nonprofits.”
Earlier this year, Crain’s reported that Berman, who has led the group for 10 years, has been investigated “on and off” by the city’s lobbying bureau since 2009, but Berman said that the investigation was based on anonymous complaint, and an inquiry by the city “found absolutely no evidence of our being in anything other than full compliance with the law.”
The city agency did not respond to a request for comment.
GVSHP is taking on the much more powerful NYU, which has multiple firms lobbying on its behalf on multiple issues. For example, law firm Bryan Cave was paid $48,757 to lobby the City Planning Commission during the first six months of 2012, city records show.
But Berman’s non-profit often has the support of elected officials and community leaders as it attempts to influence how and what the university builds, as well as weigh in on other projects, such as its support for the proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.
The differing city, state and federal lobbying laws for nonprofits make for a complex soup of regulations, a number of industry professionals said. For example the city has a very low threshold of $2,000 (calculated in part by how much staff members work on an issue), above which the organization is required to register as a lobbyist. Meanwhile the state’s figure is $5,000.
Some insiders believed an email GVSHP sent nearly two years ago urging the community to attend a Nov. 8, 2010, Community Board 2 meeting and oppose NYU’s plan to build a 400-foot tower project would be considered lobbying by city rules. But the group would only have to register if in that year the organization did more than $2,000 in lobbying.
Yet that same request for community participation would not be considered lobbying by federal rules, which don’t cover community boards.
Sean Delany, executive director at the Lawyers Alliance for New York, which advises nonprofits on legal issues, said because of the low $2,000 threshold in New York City, many nonprofits register as lobbyists. In some instances, the nonprofits may be talking directly with elected or administrative officials seeking funding or to influence legislation. In others, they may be reaching out to the public in what is known as indirect or grassroots lobbying, trying to get individuals to contact public officials on a particular issue.