Chin, Colleagues Back Curbs on Real Estate Industry Campaign Spending

One issue in this year’s City Council campaigns, including in Lower Manhattan, has been a well-funded effort by New York City real estate developers to influence the outcome of several races.  Yesterday City Council member Brad Lander, along with District 1’s Margaret Chin and other Council representatives called for new legislation to reign in “third party expenditures.”

Margaret Chin announced the launch of her re-election campaign in June.

Margaret Chin announced the launch of her re-election campaign in June.

Lander, co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, wants to close a loophole allowing “LLC’s” to give up to $150,000 to outside political action committees, such as a new group called , “Jobs for New York.”  Other types of companies are limited to $5,000. The group, which is backed by the Real Estate Board of New York and some of the city’s biggest developers, has spent more than $6 million to send out mailers in support of 17 candidates, including Margaret Chin.

The legislation, which Lander intends to officially introduce in the fall, would also require third party groups to list major backers on their campaign literature.   Chin, in a joint press release with her Council colleagues and Common Cause, said:

Independent expenditures undermine the democratic process because they monopolize the dialogue, disseminate unverified information, and drown out the valuable contributions of everyday donors… I am a proud participant in the campaign finance matching funds program, which enables even the most modest donations to play a meaningful role in elections. However, this grassroots support is often overwhelmed by unsolicited corporate spending over which candidates have no control. I have repeatedly spoken out against independent expenditures in my re-election or any other race; New York is not a ‘pay-to-play’ city, and I am proud to support legislation will make elections more accessible and transparent.

According to the city’s campaign finance database, Jobs for New York has spent $130,857 to produce 11 direct mail pieces on Chin’s behalf.  Tenants PAC, which has a long history of supporting Chin, withheld its support this year.  Michael McKee of Tenants PAC told Crain’s last month, “No matter how good her record, we told her, ‘If you don’t denounce REBNY [the Real Estate Board of New York], we’re staying out… This is REBNY, for Christ’s sake.”  Chin addressed the issue during a recent interview with The Lo-Down (the bulk of which will be published next week). Here’s an excerpt:

Chin: I think with Tenants PAC they also recognize my strong history, tenant organizing, tenant advocacy. It’s something that I have already said publicly many times… I don’t think third party expenditures should be allowed. These are independent expenditures. I can’t tell them what to do. People have to look at my track record. It’s there, 30 some 40 years.  So I think that is my commitment and what I have done for my community. I’m not for sale. That’s very clear. My opposition, of course they’re going to use it.

Question: Have you told the group you don’t what them spending on your behalf?

Chin: We don’t even know who to contact. We can’t (legally) have any contact with them.

Question: There has been no communication with the group whatsoever?

Chin: There has been no communication. We have no control over what they sent out. They download pictures and get whatever information, which to me is not even the most accurate information

Chin’s opponent in the September 10th Democratic Primary, Jenifer Rajkumar, argues that the donations on behalf of the Council member prove she is beholden to real estate interests. Rajkumar’s campaign fired off its own press release yesterday afternoon, saying:

It’s ridiculous and the height of hypocrisy. It’s like a paid lobbyist for the tobacco industry claiming to support new regulations of tobacco companies. Margaret Chin won’t lift a finger to help pass this legislation to regulate REBNY’s spending in electoral races while she is running as a REBNY-backed candidate. I have repeatedly asked Chin to denounce and reject the outside support she has received from REBNY, and she has consistently refused. Far from being a reformer of outside spending in city politics, Chin is one of the biggest beneficiaries of it. End of story.

Incidentally, a new round of campaign disclosure statements is due by the end of the week. We’ll have details when new information is available.

6 comments to Chin, Colleagues Back Curbs on Real Estate Industry Campaign Spending

  • Concerned Voter

    Fine…let’s take Chin at her word and assume she has no say over what
    REBNY does on her behalf. However, you have to wonder why they would
    spend so much money on her campaign. They want to support candidates
    that will vote in their favor on real estate matters. Plain and simple.
    We need someone that will fight for our neighborhoods and that is not
    Margaret Chin. I’m voting for Jenifer Rajkumar!

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    No matter what Chin says now, it is too little too late. Her actions speak louder than words and are the reason REBNY is spending so much to get her re-elected. I’m voting for Rajkumar.

  • Downtown Resident

    Again Chin claims in regard to hundred$ of thousand$ in PAC $pending: “We have no control over what they sent out.”

    And then gives this dodge of an answer:

    Question: Have you told the group you don’t what them spending on your behalf?

    Chin: We don’t even know who to contact. We can’t (legally) have any contact with them.

    But has Chin unequivocally denounced the REBNY expenditures, or sent out corrections to what Chin describes as “not even the most accurate information”??

    The answer is NO.

    And now Chin is jumping on board to some theoretical legislation to curb PAC spending. Really? Give me a break.

    District 1 deserves better.

  • Micah

    I like Jenifer Rajkumar, but she lost my support when she kicked off her campaign by attacking Chin for supporting the grand SPURA compromise that the Community Board worked so hard to create. It was a cheap shot, especially given that Chin was largely responsible for making the affordable housing component of the approved plan permanent (an important element of the plan that the EDC wanted to leave out), and given that Rajkumar had zero role in the lengthy, open process that led to the Community Board’s ultimate unanimous approval of the SPMUDP.

    Rajkumar seems to have a very genuine desire to do public service and I hope to vote for her some day in some capacity. Chin’s not perfect (she really should disown the sleazy “Jobs for New York” anti-Rajkumar flier I received in the mail this week), but as far as I can tell Chin has worked hard to balance the incredibly diverse needs and desires of her constituency and has done right by our neighborhood. So barring some revelation between now and September 10, I’m pretty sure I’ll be voting for Chin.

  • Guest

    All of NYC politics is awash in money – personal private wealth or the wealth of institutional donors. It’s gotten more overt since Citizen’s United. As to REBNY mailings…I’ve been getting a deluged by a comparable version of pricey, glossy, Chin-smearing, not-entirely-truthful mailings from supporters of Rajkumar. Please, enough with the pretense of purity. It is known that Rajkumar’s “not for profit for poor girls” didn’t exist – a resume enhancement, her editorial was written with zero information or involvement insisting on a delusional 100% affordable housing in SPURA. Chin and the community worked for three years negotiating and compromising and got an unheard of 50%.
    We have every right to be angry (and vote) when decisions don’t go our way. But a politician who protests isn’t the same as a politician who knows how to struggle within institutional power. You don’t get everything, you make mistakes and hopefully you get smarter.
    She has Working Families Party endorsement – they do pay attention to political realities and their outcomes.

  • Bowerygals

    All of NYC politics is awash in money – personal private wealth or the wealth of institutional donors. It’s gotten more overt since Citizen’s United. As to REBNY mailings…I’ve been getting deluged by a comparable version of pricey, glossy, Chin-smearing, not-entirely-truthful mailings from supporters of Rajkumar. Please, enough with the pretense of purity. It is known that Rajkumar’s “not for profit for poor girls” didn’t exist – a resume enhancement, her editorial on SPURA was written with zero information insisting on a delusional 100% affordable housing. Chin and the community worked for three years negotiating and compromising and got an unheard of 50%.
    We have every right to be angry (and vote) when decisions don’t go our way. But a politician who protests isn’t the same as a politician who knows how to struggle within institutional power. You don’t get everything, you make mistakes and hopefully you get smarter.
    She has Working Families Party endorsement – they do pay attention to political realities and their outcomes.