REBNY cuts campaign spending, becomes more bipartisan in Senate

With Skelos gone, politicos say Senate could be up for grabs 

From left: John Banks and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan
From left: John Banks and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan

Amid an environment of greater scrutiny following the recent political scandals in Albany, the Real Estate Board of New York slashed its campaign spending in 2015, according to an analysis of campaign finance records.

What’s more, with control of the state Senate possibly in play after the downfall of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, REBNY’s donations have become more bipartisan.

Through its political action committee, REBNY has spent slightly more than $163,000 since Jan. 2015 in the current election cycle, campaign finance disclosures filed with the state’s Board of Elections show. That’s a 43 percent drop from the nearly $285,000 it spent by this point in the previous election cycle.

“Recent history might have made them [REBNY] a little more cautious,” said Suri Kasirer, one of the city’s top real estate lobbyists. Representatives for the trade group, which held its annual gala Thursday, did not respond to requests for comment.

While Democrats hold a strong majority in the state Assembly, the GOP controls the Senate by a narrow margin. And with Skelos awaiting a prison sentence, political observers say his seat and control of the Senate could be in play during the Legislature’s elections later this year.

When it comes to campaign spending in the Senate, REBNY has traditionally backed GOP candidates and committees. And while the group’s PAC started off supporting mostly GOP candidates in the first half of 2015, it later spread its campaign cash more evenly on both sides of the aisle.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Through the first six months of last year, REBNY gave nearly 75 percent of its Senate campaign contributions to Republicans. But in the second half of the year, GOP spending accounted for just 52 percent.

The largest recipient of REBNY cash in the upper chamber was Democratic State Senator Jeffrey Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester Counties. Following the Democrats’ takeover of the Senate following the 2012 elections, Klein led a group of rogue senators called the Independent Democratic Conference that broke away from the party and caucused with Republican leadership.

Should elections in November leave the Senate hotly contested, Klein could prove to be a key figure.

Klein and his IDC campaign committee received a combined $10,000 from REBNY during the second half of the year, records show. In the six months prior to that Skelos had been the biggest recipient with $10,300.

Those who watch Albany closely say that REBNY, which represents the industry on a wide variety of issues, is apt to hedge its bets.

The Rent Stabilization Association, on the other hand, represents the owners of some 1 million housing units on a singular issue, and is more inclined to back GOP candidates.

“We make our contributions based on philosophy, said Frank Ricci, director of government affairs at the RSA. “In the State Senate, Republicans recognize private property rights, and our support is based on that.”

The RSA has spent more than $220,000 so far, up about 12 percent from the previous cycle. Nearly half of that cash went to the Senate Republican’s campaign committee.