Chin, Colleagues Back Curbs on Real Estate Industry Campaign Spending

File photo; Margaret Chin at a kickoff event for her 2013 campaign.

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.