The lobbying firm that Columbia hired to promote the Manhattanville campus expansion plan did not report a nearly $400,000 increase in income from the University, according to the state’s Commission on Public Integrity.
On Sept. 3, CPI publicly alleged that Bill Lynch Associates, a Harlem-based political consulting firm, failed to file required documents disclosing that Columbia had increased its compensation by $390,000 in 2007.
The University hired the firm in 2007 to promote the Manhattanville expansion among local residents and business owners, many of whom oppose the plan because they believe it will gentrify the historic neighborhood and displace residents and businesses.
In turn, Bill Lynch Associates hired the public relations firm Sunshine, Sachs & Associates, which organized the Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville. The Coalition was a grassroots effort to promote the expansion plan in the face of opposition from the local Coalition to Preserve Community and the Columbia-based Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification. This initiative involved courting the support of elected officials, community organizations, neighborhood businesses, and others.
CPI spokesperson Walter Ayres said that the commission discovered the alleged violation by comparing financial documents submitted by Bill Lynch Associates to those submitted by Columbia.
The University increased the firm’s compensation from $180,000 to $570,000 in 2007, CPI acting Executive Director Barry Ginsberg wrote in a Notice of Reasonable Cause dated Aug. 8. A Notice of Reasonable Cause denotes an alleged, not a proven, violation, and Bill Lynch Associates can seek a settlement or appear before a hearing officer, according to Ayres.
“If a settlement is not reached, the hearing officer will schedule a hearing after which she will issue her determination, including a recommended penalty, if appropriate, which the Commission can accept, reject, or send back for reconsideration,” Ayres wrote in an e-mail. “The Commission presents its case at the hearing, and the lobbyist presents a defense.”
State laws penalize only the lobbying firm that failed to properly report compensation, not its client, meaning that Columbia cannot face legal action for Bill Lynch’s alleged violation. Bill Lynch Associates could face a fine of up to $25,000 or three times the amount it allegedly failed to report, meaning it could potentially owe CPI more than a million dollars. The firm did not respond to a call for comment made Friday.
Statements of Registration, and amended statements if information changes, are required of all lobbyists in the state.
University spokesperson Robert Hornsby declined to comment.