In his first year at REBNY, Banks earned $250K less than Spinola

Tax filings show the former Con Ed lobbyist was paid $627K salary in 2015

From left: John Banks and Steven Spinola (Credit: Adam Pincus for <em>The Real Deal</em>)
From left: John Banks and Steven Spinola (Credit: Adam Pincus for The Real Deal)

In his first year on the job at the Real Estate Board of New York, John Banks received a total compensation of $627,335, the real estate trade group’s 2015 tax forms show. That’s nearly $250,000 less than what his predecessor, Steven Spinola, made in the same year, his final one as president of one of the city’s most powerful lobbying groups.

Experts in the world of nonprofit executive pay said there are multiple factors that go into calculating CEO compensation, an important one being length of tenure. Spinola was in the position for nearly 30 years, and spent part of 2015 in charge before formally passing the baton to Banks. But even if it’s only in terms of optics, the fact that REBNY’s first black president made a good deal less than his white predecessor can’t be ignored.

“It doesn’t look good. I can say that,” said Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits. “The perception would raise the question about why he made less.”

A spokesperson for REBNY declined to comment.

Banks earned a base salary of $622,035 in 2015, with perks like money for retirement, deferred compensation and additional non-taxable benefits pushing his total compensation up to $627,335, REBNY’s annual filings with the Internal Revenue Service show. During that same period, Spinola took home a base salary of $846,035, and additional benefits pushed his total compensation for the year to $868,692.

REBNY announced in late 2014 that it had appointed Banks – then the top lobbyist at Con Edison – to serve as its next president. In March 2015, Banks assumed the role of “president-elect” and worked alongside Spinola during a transition period, which included negotiations that ultimately failed to renew the lucrative 421a tax incentive.

It’s not clear whether the compensation figures listed on the tax forms represent salaries for the full year, or just a portion. While the filings cover the 2015 tax year, which runs contiguous with the calendar year, they were only recently made available.

Just as salaries for top executives in the for-profit world are negotiated on the open market, nonprofits compete for top talent with enticing compensation and benefits packages.

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Sauer said that for an organization the size of REBNY – it recorded gross revenues of $13.6 million in 2015 – it’s not uncommon to see such large salaries. Still, it is a rarified world.

Out of 4,587 charities studied in 2016, only 76 (or less than 2 percent) paid their CEOs $500,000 or more, according to Charity Navigator, an independent watchdog group. The median salary for a nonprofit CEO in New York City in 2016 was $175,803, the group found.

Sauer added that while it’s not inconceivable that REBNY would pay a newcomer less than someone with three decades of experience, nonprofits typically do pay more to minority leaders..

Minority executive leadership, whether it’s Hispanics or Asians or African-Americans, is usually more of a premium in white organizations,” he said.

Sauer did note that his experience lies mostly with 501(c)3 nonprofits, the kind of organization charities typically use as a tax structure. REBNY is registered as a 501(c)6 – the main distinction being that the trade group is allowed to participate in political activities and has more freedom to lobby lawmakers.

Spinola’s compensation grew steadily over the years, save a slight downturn of just a few thousand dollars between 2008 and 2009 to $661,380. In the following years, REBNY gave him increasingly larger benefits, including a bonus of nearly $200,000 in 2012.

His total compensation topped out in 2014 shy of $1 million.

Other top-earning executives at REBNY include senior vice president James Whelan, who earned a total compensation of $501,139 in 2015, and CFO William Auerbach, who earned $354,676.