The goal, in most cases, is to avoid what is commonplace and legal in New York: Elected officials spend their day meeting with lobbyists in the Capitol to discuss pending legislation and the budget, and then spend their night collecting checks from many of the same people.
Yet that two-step is part of the culture in Albany, especially in the weeks before a new state budget is officially ironed out, when opportunities to win influence are abundant.
The scene is on repeat — 10 one night, eight another. Political veterans in Albany call it “the circuit.”
“You’re up there, the potential donors are up there, the room is available and it’s just an easy thing for people to put together,” said Rory I. Lancman, who represented neighborhoods of Queens in the State Assembly, and now does so in the New York City Council. “For a lot of people, it’s probably the easiest, quickest way to raise some money.”
Although legislators may not so much as discuss their fund-raisers in the Capitol, they can hold fund-raising events in the Albany Room, a private venue virtually inside of the Capitol. Just pass through the security turnstiles into an underground concourse and it’s a few steps away.
With almost always another fund-raiser to get to, the food and drink at these events are mostly ignored; if a lobbyist spends more than 15 minutes at an event, that likely means a missed opportunity elsewhere.
“I’m not on the circuit; I’m just at one party,” James E. McMahon, a lobbyist with the nickname Cadillac, insisted, as he milled about an event for the Senate Republican Campaign Committee at the Fort Orange Club. “It’s like the Grand Hotel: people come and people go, but nothing ever happens.”