Press Release

For Immediate Release: June 11, 2019

Fair Elections and Housing Advocates to Legislature and Gov: Get Real Estate Big Money Out of Albany, Tenants’ Voices In

With housing fight at high pitch and clock ticking on public financing of elections commission, groups rally in the Capitol to push for end of campaign finance system that rewards landlords, punishes tenants. See full press conference here.

Albany, NY – The Fair Elections for New York and Housing Justice for All supporters joined to hold a press conference calling for an end to New York’s campaign finance system that allows real estate donors to drown out the voices of tenants. Speakers highlighted a new report from the Public Accountability Initiative, featured in the Albany Times-Union yesterday, that examined the real estate industry’s outsized influence over New York State rent laws and recommended a strong public campaign finance system to give everyday New Yorkers including tenants across the state a bigger voice.  

With the housing fight at high pitch and the clock ticking on the public financing of elections commission, the new report shows that every time Albany has taken up the task of renewing the state’s rent laws, real estate special interests have taken advantage of the state’s highest in the nation campaign finance limits to swamp the Capitol in donations, far eclipsing the money given by all small donors across the state by nearly as much as 7-to-1. The Public Accountability Initiative report concludes, “A public-financed small donor matching system that matches small individual donations while restricting corporate contributions and lowering individual contribution limits would virtually erase the disparity between landlords’ campaign spending and that of tenants and every day New Yorkers.”

Advocates called for the legislature to swiftly seat the public financing commission outlined in the state budget and for the Legislature to introduce Fair Elections legislation so they are prepared in the event the commission falls short in its recommendations. With recommendations due on December 1 of this year, activists held up a poster of an hourglass highlighting that almost one-third of the time available for the commission to get to work has already passed.

The public will not know the full extent of the real estate industry’s influence over the current rent reform debate until a full month after the fact, when the July 15th campaign finance reporting deadline reveals industry spending during this legislative session.

“Every time New York’s rent laws are up for debate, the real estate industry outspends small donors by a factor ranging from three to nearly seven times the amount. Our analysis shows that not only that the real estate industry is a dominant force in New York State politics, but we have the solutions at hand to wipe out the disparity between landlords’ campaign spending and that of everyday New Yorkers. Matching small donations, restricting corporate contributions, and lowering contribution limits would address the real estate industry’s grossly outsized influence in our politics,” said Robert Galbraith, senior research analyst at Public Accountability Initiative.

“Elected leaders can say all they want that they aren’t influenced by their donors, but history seems to tell another story. Real estate donors spend big, and Albany makes it easy to raise rents and evict people from their homes—that’s the story on repeat every time crucial rent laws are up for renewal. Legislators can end this now. The real question is, what’s stopping them? It’s time to seat the public financing commission and introduce Fair Elections legislation to give tenants—and all New Yorkers—a bigger voice in Albany,” said Stanley Fritz, Campaigns Manager at Citizen Action of New York and an organizer on behalf of Fair Elections for New York.

“Landlords and developers have dictated rent policy for long enough. The money real estate interests spend in our politics is a calculated move to protect and expand their soaring profits on backs of millions of New Yorkers who can’t afford their rent. The 10 million tenants across New York deserve a bigger voice in Albany, and small donor public financing is the way to do it,” said Patrick Houston, Community Organizer from New York Communities for Change

“New Yorkers from every corner of the state, both rural and urban, are systemically silenced by the overwhelming power of Real Estate dollars. If Albany is going to be the integral legislature we need then we have to have publicly financed campaigns to ensure that our citizens votes actually matter, and that’s across the political spectrum,” said Jawanza Williams, Director of Organizing with VOCAL-NY.

“The majority of New Yorkers are renters, yet our highest in the nation campaign finance limits here in New York allow big real estate donors to outspend and overshadow the concerns of tenants. Enough is enough. If you support tenants, it’s time to break big real estate’s grip on Albany. Pass small donor public financing, so that our politicians can spend time fundraising from regular constituents instead of developers and landlords. Nearly a third of the time has passed for the commission to get to work. Albany needs to hear us loud and clear: the time is now for Fair Elections in New York,” said Jess Wisneski, Co-Director of Citizen Action of New York.