REBNY’s political arm doubles down on breakaway group

The industry group spent $93,500 on IDC campaign committees alone

From left: REBNY's John Banks, Sen. Jeff Klein, Sen. John Flanagan and Assm. Carl Heastie
From left: REBNY's John Banks, Sen. Jeff Klein, Sen. John Flanagan and Assm. Carl Heastie

Real Estate Board PAC, a political expenditure arm of the Real Estate Board of New York, spent just over $300,000 in operating costs and contributions to New York State campaign and party committees through the first half of 2017, reports filed Monday with the state Board of Elections show.

The sum is more than twice as much as REBNY spent in the same during period in the last non-election year, when it doled out just $115,000 to campaign committees between January and July of 2015.

The uptick in spending suggests REBNY is gearing up for what may turn out to be a number of hotly contested Senate primary races, especially in New York City. Multiple members of the state’s Independent Democratic Conference, which, along with Republican-caucusing Democrat Simcha Felder, is aligned with the Republicans in the State Senate and effectively gives that party majority control, are expected to be challenged in the Democratic primary next year. Real Estate Board PAC made sure all eight members of the IDC, six of which represent New York City districts, got checks, with the highest amount, $10,000, going to both Brooklyn Sen. Jesse Hamilton and to Queens Sen. Jose Peralta. Both lawmakers only joined the IDC beginning with the 2017 legislative session and they have both come under scrutiny from Democratic voters critical of the IDC’s alliance with the Republican Party.

Real Estate Board PAC spent $43,500 across all its donations to individual IDC members. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan also took in $10,000 from the group. No donations to Governor Andrew Cuomo or Attorney General Eric Schneiderman were recorded.

The Senate is the last word before Gov. Cuomo on some of the most important issues to the real estate industry, including the 421a developer tax exemption and New York City’s rent stabilization laws. Republican control of the Senate helps ensure that many bills unfavorable to the industry, such as recent proposals to end the landlord practice of charging preferential rents, are unlikely to get out of committees and make it to a floor vote.

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The Real Estate Board PAC does spread quite a bit of money around spectrum, however. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a key cog in the political wheel, took a $4,400 check from the group during the filing period and Queens Senator Mike Gianaris, something of a nemesis to IDC leader and Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, received $1,000. Gianaris, the deputy head of the mainline Democrats in the Senate, has criticized the IDC for collaborating with the Republican Party, stating in a January interview that IDC members were “going to have to decide if they can live with themselves.”

Klein also controls the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, which was set up last year to raise funds for IDC members. That committee accounted for Real Estate Board PAC’s largest single contribution during the filing period: $50,000. In total, a third of REBNY’s total spending went to IDC campaign committees.

About $40,000 in reported spending went back to the Real Estate Board of New York to cover office costs, according to the filing.

RSA PAC, the political committee of the landlord group Rent Stabilization Association, spent more modestly than REBNY in the period, reporting just under $89,500 in expenditures. The political arm provided $50,000 of that money to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. As for its fundraising, RSA pulled $286,000 from its own coffers into RSA PAC and collected dozens of small contributions from major and minor landlords alike, including Glenwood Management, Stellar Management and the Durst Organization. Those contributions totaled more than $90,000. The largest single landlord contribution came from Stanley Wasserman’s SW Management, one of the city’s largest owners of rent-regulated housing, which gave $7,420.

As for REBNY, it transferred $71,725 into Real Estate Board PAC on May 26, 2017, but did not report any individual contributions to the PAC during the filing period.