REBNY’s political contributions plummet

Contributions to trade group’s PAC also fell dramatically post-2018

REBNY president James Whelan (Whelan by Anuja Shakya; iStock)
REBNY president James Whelan (Whelan by Anuja Shakya; iStock)

With Democrats in control of the state Senate, and with a growing number of progressive candidates refusing to take cash from real estate, the industry’s main lobbying group in New York has scaled back political contributions dramatically.

The Real Estate Board of New York’s political action committee made less than $80,000 in campaign donations this year, compared to $450,000 spent during the primaries in 2018, according to an analysis by the Gotham Gazette.

“I hope they figured out that their traditional model of just throwing dollars at politicians and expecting them to do their bidding is over,” Sen. Michael Gianaris, a one-time ally of the industry, told the Gazette.

To be sure, REBNY also made substantive arguments on behalf of policies it supported, such as the 421-a property tax abatement and rent increases to compensate landlords for fixing up rent-stabilized buildings. But the 2018 election swung the political pendulum back to tenants’ side.

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“What I would say to the real estate industry is throw the old models out the window, start working with your tenants to come up with a collaborative approach to setting policy,” said Gianaris, the No. 2 Democrat in the upper chamber.

While REBNY’s PAC donated more than $10,000 each to 42 different campaigns in 2018, only one candidate had received more than $10,000 this year as of June 20 — Democratic Bronx state senator Luis Sepúlveda.

There’s also less at stake in state elections this year, with control of the Senate — where Democrats hold 40 of 63 seats — no longer in doubt and rent stabilization not on the agenda.

The 2018 election cycle, which was marked by the looming expiration of the rent-stabilization law and predictions of a “blue wave” that came to pass across New York, saw a marked increase in political contributions from REBNY, which contributed $236,750 to Demcratic candidates — up from $57,000 in 2016.

Contributions to REBNY’s PAC have also shrunk dramatically, from $1.3 million in 2018 — and similar amounts in 2016 and 2017 — to just about $200,000 in 2019. [Gotham Gazette] — Kevin Sun