Strange Bedfellows

By Elizabeth Benjamin
New York Daily News
May 13, 2009

For the first time in recent memory, the New York State Catholic Conference has beefed up its lobbying effort in Albany, adding two additional guns-for-hire - Patricia Lynch Associates and Hank Sheinkopf - to bolster the efforts of its in-house team and longstanding outside firm, Wilson Elser.

As Crains Insider reported earlier this month, the Catholic Conference brought on Lynch (best known for her ties to the Assembly Democrats) and Sheinkopf (who serves as an unpaid advisor to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith) to focus on legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims - a move that would undoubtedly make a big dent in the already-struggling church's bottom line.

Interestingly, at least one of the conference's new lobbyists - Pat Lynch - is on the opposite side of another issue of utmost importance to the church: Gay marriage.

In March, the Empire State Pride Agenda beefed up its own lobbying team by having its longtime outside representative, Cynthia Dames, team up with Lynch.

(At the time, ESPA Executive Director Alan Van Capelle said he wanted to put together an "all-star team" to win marriage this year, and touted how he had picked up two new "team" members that week: Lynch and Sen. Chuck Schumer, a recent convert on the marriage question.

Apparently, Schumer is fulfilling his pledge to work on behalf of marriage equality, as evidenced by a letter he co-wrote with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another relative newcomer to this issue, that urges Assembly members to vote "yes" this afternoon).

Catholic Conference Executive Director Rick Barnes seemed unperturbed about the apparent conflict between his organization and one of its lobbyists on marriage, saying he is comfortable with the firm's ability to maintain a "firewall," adding: "We're confident in their professionalism."

I suggested the church has been more vocal in its opposition to the statute bill than on marriage of late, which stands to reason on a whole host of levels (politically, marriage appears more far-fetched in the Senate, for example, and financially, the statute bill could really do a number on the church).

But Barnes insisted that is not, in fact, the case and said the conference has not changed its approach on marriage. "There's no difference this year," he said. "It will be disappointing for us when it does pass, certainly, and we have been lobbying in the Assembly to stop it."


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