A member of the State Assembly who sits on a legislative committee that oversees public agencies such as the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) is also a partner in a firm that earns millions of dollars per year giving financial advice to those same agencies.
Robert Rodriguez, a Democratic member of the Assembly who represents the upper Manhattan neighborhood of East Harlem, is a member of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. This panel has oversight responsibility for the dozens of New York State public-benefit agencies that are commonly known as “authorities.”
Mr. Rodriguez is also listed as a “director” on the website of Public Financial Management, Inc. (PFM), a Philadelphia-based financial advisory firm that focuses on asset management and consulting services for municipalities, cities, schools, hospitals and other public entities. With 35 offices around the United States, PFM is ranked as the number one financial advisory firm in the nation, based on the number and size of the transactions (such as bond issues) that it manages for government clients. Mr. Rodriguez joined the company last October, when A.C. Advisory — another, smaller firm in the business of advising government clients on their finances — was acquired by PFM. Mr. Rodriguez, who holds degrees from Yale and New York University, had been a vice president at A.C. Advisory, and was designated a director at the merged company.
According to the most recent financial disclosure form that Mr. Rodriguez, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2010, has on file with the State’s corruption watchdog, the Joint Commission on Professional Ethics (JCOPE), he earned between $100,000 and $150,000 from A.C. Advisory in 2014. (This is almost twice his base annual salary of $79,000, as a member of the Assembly.)
A review of procurement reports from 47 of the public-benefit agencies overseen by the Assembly committee on which Mr. Rodriguez serves indicates that PFM (which also still does business under the A.C. Advisory label) has a total of 26 contracts with nine different New York State authorities, with a total value of $12.5 million.
The largest of these relationships is with the Long Island Power Authority, where PFM has two contracts: one for $5.4 million, and another for $550,000. PFM’s second-most lucrative relationship is with the BPCA, where the procurement report lists three contracts, for $1.4 million, $1.04 million, and $8,500.
The Environmental Facilities Corporation, which provides financial and technical assistance to New York municipalities for water quality infrastructure projects, is third on the list, with $1.4 million divided between two contracts. The New York Power Authority is another important client for Mr. Rodriguez’s firm, with contracts for $1.1 million in advisory services. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority rounds out the top five with slightly more than $900,000 in contracts for PFM.
The remaining four agencies, all of which have given PFM contracts valued at less than $500,000, are the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, the State Dormitory Authority, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and the United Nations Development Corporation.
There is no indication that PFM’s work for these agencies has been anything other than satisfactory. Nor does the public record contain any evidence that Mr. Rodriguez has used his influence as a State legislator, and a member of the Assembly committee that oversees authorities, to steer contracts from these agencies toward the firm. In fact, he has more than once publicly stated that he recuses himself from any deliberation that could potentially benefit PFM. Finally, a review of relevant records does not point toward even the implication that either Mr. Rodriguez, PFM, or any of the agencies mentioned here has violated any law.
To the contrary, the ethics laws that govern New York State legislators are so broadly permissive that relationships giving rise to at least the appearance of a conflict of interest (which would be explicitly forbidden if they involved, for example, federal elected officials) are commonplace in Albany.
For Mr. Rodriguez, a recent brush with local politics is illustrative. He was a candidate in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the City Council seat representing East Harlem. (This seat is being vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, as a result of term limits.) He lost this race, and it appears that Mr. Rodriguez will remain in the Assembly for the foreseeable future. But if his campaign had been successful, the rules relating to outside income and conflicts of interest for City Council members are so much stricter than those in the Assembly (and the State Senate), that Mr. Rodriguez would have been legally required to resign from PFM before being sworn in.