News | West Harlem

State accuses Manhattanville PR firm of violation

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.


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Anonymous posted on

The "Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville"?

I live in the area, and have been following this story closely ever since the initial announcement, and I've never heard of this coalition. It sounds like Columbia hasn't gotten their money's worth, whether it's 180K or 570K.

Anonymous posted on

Ironically, as a tax-exempt, "non-profit", "educational institution", Columbia University is not supposed to be engaging in undemocratic lobbying activity in Albany.

Yet, as the following figures for 2007 and 2008 indicate, the Columbia University Administration has apparently been shifting some of the tax-exempt money it collects from alumni and the tuition it collects from its students for Columbia University's "lobbying slush fund" to the following political lobbying firms:

Lynch, Bill Associates, LLC Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (The) $636,560

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, LLP Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (The) $496,368

Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, LLP Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (The) $492,155

Greenberg Traurig, LLP Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (The) $317,245

Anonymous posted on

According to the following laws:
26 U.S.C. §§ 501(c)(3), 26 USC §501(h), and 4911; 26 C.F.R. § 1.501(c)(3)-1, 26 C.F.R. §§ 1.501(h)-1 to (h)-3
"In order to maintain their tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3), private colleges and universities must not engage in prohibited political campaign or lobbying activity. Failure to follow these proscriptions could result in loss of tax-exempt status for the institution."

Yet for the last 5 years, Columbia University President Bollinger, former Mayor and Columbia Professor Dinkins and a Columbia University board of trustees that included former Democratic Party Obama presidential campaign fund-raiser/staffperson and current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have spent large amounts of their time (and Columbia University cash reserves) lobbying for government agency and legislative approval of their 17-acre West Harlem landgrabbing campus expansion project.

So shouldn't Columbia University's tax-exempt status now be finally revoked, under current federal law?

Anonymous posted on

The Columbia Administration spent over $2.1 million on undemocratically lobbying government legislators, their legislative staffs, government officials or a legislative body between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008, according to the tax-exempt Columbia University's Form 990 financial filing for 2007.

Tax-exempt educational institutions are supposed to be prohibited from engaging in lobbying activities for non-educationally-related ventures. Yet according to Columbia's Form 990 financial filing for 2007, the following Columbia University administrators apparently spent much of their time contacting Federal, State and local legislators and their policy staffs in order to lobby these officials on behalf of their privately-controlled institution's "Bovisgate" real estate development construction project in West Harlem:

1. Columbia University's President;
2. Columbia's Senior Executive Vice President;
3. Columbia's Executive Vice President for Government and Community Affairs;
4. Columbia's Vice-President for Manhattanville Construction;
5. Columbia's Vice-President for Real Estate;
6. Columbia's Assistant Vice-President and Director for Government Relations;
7. Columbia's Assistant Director for Government Relations; and
8. Columbia's Assistant Vice President for Planning and Project Coordination.

In addition, tax-exempt Columbia University also retained outside lobbying firms (like the Bill Lynch Associates firm mentioned in this article) to lobby public officials on behalf of the Columbia Administration's special private interests at the state and local levels.

Ironically, although the same financial filing for 2007 indicates that Columbia University collected over $770 million in tuition fees from its student body between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008, no current Columbia College (or current Barnard College) undergraduate students apparently now sit on the "Columbia Lobbyversity" board of trustees. Yet at least four current or former executives of the off-campus, publicly-bailed-out, for-profit Wall Street firm--Goldman Sachs--presently hold seats on Columbia's board of trustees.