BerlinRosen (also styled Berlin Rosen) is a for-profit public relations and campaign communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City that works for Democratic campaigns, progressive nonprofit organizations, and labor unions, with a focus on New York. Founded in 2005 by former Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) employee and New York Senate Democratic Conference staffer Valerie Berlin and her then-colleague Jonathan Rosen, the firm rose to prominence after its client Bill de Blasio (D) was elected Mayor of New York in 2013. In the 2016 Presidential election cycle, BerlinRosen was retained by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, being paid $252,834.
Since de Blasio’s first election, the firm and its principals have been key players in influence scandals surrounding the Mayor’s administration. BerlinRosen and its principal Jonathan Rosen have been involved in controversies stemming from the Mayor’s 2014 efforts to secure a Democratic Conference majority in the New York State Senate, de Blasio’s use of his political consultants as informal advisors, and the management of the de Blasio-associated nonprofit organization Campaign for One New York.
In addition to working for de Blasio and in association with the de Blasio administration, BerlinRosen has been retained by numerous labor unions, most notably by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to run the Fight for $15 minimum wage and fast food restaurant unionization campaign. The campaign has been criticized by both the right and the left for top-down organization by BerlinRosen and the SEIU.
While politicians and labor unions are the clients for which BerlinRosen is most prominent, the company has also worked for law firms, corporations, environmentalist groups, progressive foundations, and other left-of-center nonprofits. Executive-level staff other than Berlin and Rosen have backgrounds in Democratic Party campaigns, labor union activism, and the liberal nonprofit world. The company is privately held, limiting disclosure of its activities.
The principals of BerlinRosen, Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen, are longtime veterans of New York left-wing politics. Before forming the company in 2005, Berlin and Rosen worked for the New York State Senate’s Democratic Conference under then-state Sen. David Paterson (D-Manhattan). Prior to working for the Conference, Berlin had worked for the controversial labor union-aligned community organizing network ACORN and future New York State Attorney General (and BerlinRosen client) Eric Schneiderman. Rosen had been an alumnus of the failed 2001 mayoral campaign of then-New York City Public Advocate Mark Green (D).
In 2005, Berlin and Rosen formed a communications and political consulting firm, which they named BerlinRosen. Early efforts included a $200,000 ad campaign attacking Republican candidates for the New York State Senate and media relations work for embattled senior New York Democrats Eliot Spitzer and Sheldon Silver.
Associations with Bill de Blasio
Also see Bill de Blasio
In 2013, the already-notable firm made its largest splash when its client Bill de Blasio won election as Mayor of New York City. The firm took credit for designing a media strategy that led the then-Public Advocate to surge in the decisive Democratic primary by pushing his opposition to the controversial “stop and frisk” police tactic.
After the election, BerlinRosen leveraged their association with the mayor into substantial informal influence that ultimately left the firm and Jonathan Rosen embroiled in numerous scandals that surrounded the de Blasio administration. The television news program NY1 characterized Rosen as “the most powerful man in [New York City] politics outside City Hall” in 2015 based on his closeness to the mayor and position at the nexus between BerlinRosen’s private-sector clients with business before the city and the de Blasio Administration.
De Blasio has continued working with BerlinRosen throughout his mayoralty, leading to controversies. Additionally, the firm was retained to handle communications for de Blasio’s 2017 reelection campaign.
BerlinRosen’s involvement in the de Blasio administration has led the firm to be associated with the mayor’s numerous controversies. The firm was involved in the operation of de Blasio’s controversial nonprofit organization Campaign for One New York, was subpoenaed in relation to the investigation into de Blasio’s efforts to secure a Democratic Conference majority in the New York State Senate, and appeared to receive assistance from de Blasio through emails on behalf of private-sector clients. Jonathan Rosen was deemed an “agent of the city” in a futile attempt by de Blasio to keep communications with him secret from New York’s open records law, the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
Campaign for One New York
Shortly after de Blasio was elected Mayor of New York, his political operatives set up a nonprofit organization, the Campaign for One New York, to promote his agenda. Controversially, the nonprofit took substantial sums from entities with business before the city; the American Federation of Teachers labor union, which was involved in contract negotiations with the Mayor, contributed over $350,000 to the group, to identify one example. BerlinRosen managed communications for the nonprofit, with an annual retainer of approximately $500,000. In 2016, it was reported that the Campaign for One New York would wind down in advance of the 2017 mayoral elections.
State Senate Campaigns
In the 2014 election cycle, Mayor de Blasio pushed hard to secure the majority in the New York State Senate for the mainline Democratic Conference. Going into the election (and again after the 2016 elections) the Senate was controlled by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats. 
De Blasio sought to support the election of mainline Democrats from upstate districts, and encouraged mega-donors, including people with business before the city, to direct contributions to upstate local Democratic Party committees and Campaign for One New York, for which BerlinRosen was handling communications. The county committees directed funds to candidates who then directed much of the funds to consultancies including BerlinRosen. BerlinRosen was subpoenaed by investigators seeking information on whether de Blasio had violated campaign finance or other laws.
This raised questions over whether the mayor or his agents had improperly coordinated with local campaigns, which nonprofits like Campaign for One New York are prohibited from doing. A state Board of Elections investigator who subpoenaed documents from BerlinRosen and other consultants found “evidence of campaigns that were coordinated at every level and down to minute detail.” Additional controversy surrounded appearances that the efforts seemed to “line the pockets” of BerlinRosen and other preferred de Blasio consultants. No charges were filed against any entity or person in the case.
City Hall Client Service
BerlinRosen has used its connections in City Hall to advance the interests of clients with business before the city, including at the initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio himself. Emails that were disclosed in response to FOIL requests between de Blasio and BerlinRosen principal Jonathan Rosen showed that de Blasio had asked Rosen about attendance at a Barclays Center event while BerlinRosen was a public relations representative for Barclays Center. The apparent mixing of business interests and mayoral action was criticized by city watchdog group Citizens Union.
BerlinRosen also represents the Coalition for the Homeless, at whose annual luncheon de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, spoke in 2014. Emails showed that the Coalition had used Jonathan Rosen as a contact to reach City Hall and secure Administration support. BerlinRosen also secured the time of Mayor de Blasio to record a video tribute to Bruce Ratner, executive chairman of BerlinRosen client Forest City Ratner Companies.
BerlinRosen has also tipped off City Hall to forthcoming actions by its clients opposing the Mayor’s policies. In 2014, Jonathan Rosen tipped off a mayoral aide that Communities United for Police Reform, a client of BerlinRosen, would be issuing a statement condemning New York’s “broken windows” policing policies. Watchdogs noted that Rosen’s actions appeared either potentially to create a conflict of interest given BerlinRosen’s work on behalf of both the mayor and Communities United or to be lobbying activities in which Rosen was not licensed to engage.
“Agents of the City”
Obtaining information on Jonathan Rosen’s involvement in the de Blasio Administration was difficult because de Blasio deemed Rosen and three consultants from other firms “agents of the city” exempting de Blasio’s communications with Rosen from the open records law FOIL. A state court ruled that de Blasio’s communications with Rosen were not privileged, with the judge writing, “correspondence between the mayor and Rosen, who has not been formally retained by the mayor or any other city agency, is not exempt from disclosure under the inter-agency or intra-agency deliberative privilege under FOIL.”
Labor Union Work
Outside of campaign consulting for left-wing candidates, BerlinRosen is heavily involved organizing and handling communications for labor union corporate campaigns. In 2016 fiscal years, unions reported spending over $7.9 million on BerlinRosen’s services.
Fight for $15
Also see Fight for $15 (Movement)
The most notable labor union campaign involving BerlinRosen is the “Fight for $15,” a campaign funded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) aimed at doubling the federal minimum wage and unionizing fast food restaurants. Organizing protests has proven lucrative for BerlinRosen. In 2016, SEIU paid the firm $1.75 million; prior years also showed million-plus-dollar spending from SEIU on BerlinRosen services. The firm was credited with developing a “strike in a box” toolkit to assist messaging and organization for demonstrations.
BerlinRosen activities in the campaign have been controversial. Left-of-center commentators have noted that BerlinRosen and SEIU organizing crowded out worker-to-worker level organizing, risking the success of the campaign. Observers also speculated about low worker involvement: One report, on demonstrations in New York City, indicated “it wasn’t clear how many participants were fast-food workers, rather than campaign organizers, supporters or members of the public relations firm that has been coordinating media efforts”—namely BerlinRosen. Conservatives suggested that BerlinRosen’s involvement and a comparative lack of worker involvement reeked of “Astroturfing”—creating fake grassroots movements.
In addition to its work with the SEIU, BerlinRosen has represented other liberal groups involved in Fight for $15. The National Employment Law Project (NELP), a union-funded employment law and policy advocacy group, has retained BerlinRosen as a consultant, paying the firm $122,734 in 2014. A BerlinRosen consultant worked with NELP to ensure press coverage for a controversial study of a Seattle minimum wage increase.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) also retained BerlinRosen for services related to staging an organizing campaign. The “Organization United for Respect at Walmart” was organized by the UFCW to attempt to unionize retailer Walmart; BerlinRosen handled public relations for the group and its counterpart project under the UFCW’s own banner. From 2012 through 2015, while OUR Walmart was in operation, the union paid BerlinRosen approximately $1.1 million for representational activities.
Communications Workers of America
One of BerlinRosen’s other labor clients is the Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the most left-wing labor unions. In 2011, the CWA retained BerlinRosen for a campaign against the New York Times Company on behalf of CWA-represented employees in a contract dispute. BerlinRosen also worked on behalf of CWA in disputes, organizing campaigns, and strikes involving Verizon, Cablevision, and AT&T. The company has worked for CWA since 2006, receiving over $3.5 million in 2016 from the labor union.
United Auto Workers
Other Known Clients
In addition to its work for de Blasio and de Blasio-related entities and labor unions, BerlinRosen has worked for numerous liberal groups across the issue spectrum; politicians as far afield as Eugene, Oregon; and a smattering of liberal-aligned corporations. BerlinRosen is associated with the progressive donor consortium Democracy Alliance, reportedly having the group as a client.
Several liberal organizations have reported paying substantial sums to retain BerlinRosen’s services. The radical environmentalist group Food and Water Watch paid Berlin Rosen $132,673 for services in 2013. Liberal judicial policy outfit Brennan Center for Justice reported substantial expenditures to BerlinRosen in numerous years, with its most recent 2015 tax returns showing expenditures of $120,345 to the firm. BerlinRosen has also handled press inquiries for gun control organizations, most notably Shannon Watts’ Moms Demand Action.
BerlinRosen’s work for nominally independent liberal groups intersects closely with its work for labor unions. The National Employment Law Project, a left-wing think tank closely aligned with labor unions and the Fight for $15, is also a BerlinRosen client. In 2015, NELP paid BerlinRosen $146,794.  This led to controversy after it emerged that BerlinRosen had helped NELP and then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) message the release of a study that appeared to cover up negative effects of the $15 per hour minimum wage that Murray enacted which were identified in a city-commissioned second study.
In New York state, BerlinRosen has powerful clients beyond Mayor de Blasio’s office. The most notable is perhaps state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), formerly Valerie Berlin’s boss. Schneiderman has had a relationship with the firm since 2010, when he retained BerlinRosen to support his first successful campaign for Attorney General.
The firm is not limited to its traditional home state, however. In 2016, BerlinRosen was hired by Joshua Skov, an ultimately unsuccessful candidate for the Eugene, Oregon city council.
The firm was retained by Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Berlin Rosen handled press related to the Green Party candidate’s recount efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, all states which had been won narrowly by Republican candidate Donald Trump. BerlinRosen circulated Stein’s claims that the election was “tarnished by the use of outdated and unreliable machines.” According to Federal Election Commission records, Stein’s campaign paid Berlin Rosen $252,834.
BerlinRosen has done work for liberal-positioned corporations with business before New York political bodies. Most notable has been the short-term lodging brokerage AirBnB, which hired the firm to launch Super PAC attacks on Republican members of the New York State Senate who opposed AirBnB expansion in New York City. BerlinRosen has also done work for the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll, which has also done work for labor unions.
Valerie Berlin and Jonathan Rosen serve as the firm’s co-principals. Both have long careers in Democratic Party politics and labor union organizing. Their success with Berlin Rosen have made them both prominent and rich. According to New York property records from 2014, both Berlin’s and Rosen’s families owned homes in Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope neighborhood that they purchased for more than $1 million. Rosen and his wife later bought a $2.5 million estate on Montauk, Long Island.
In addition to the principals, BerlinRosen executive-level staff are almost all veterans of other liberal organizations and Democratic political campaigns. According to the firm, managing director and executive vice president-level staff of Berlin Rosen are alumni of the Service Employees International Union, the 2016 Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign, the Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, the Obama White House, and the office of former U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota).