In a prelude to the looming budget battle, a shadowy group going by the name of the “Committee to Save New York” has started coordinating with the Cuomo administration to promote the dawning of a new era of “fiscal sanity” in New York State. The group has amassed a $10 million war chest to run ads in support of a fiscal reform agenda heavy on budget cuts. One ad has already gone on the air touting Cuomo’s approach to the state’s budget problems.
Who, exactly, is behind the Committee to Save New York? To find out, LittleSis’s Cuomo Watch research group will be investigating over the course of the next month. The Committee has refused to disclose its donor list, but it has released its board list, and we have already added that info to the Committee’s page on LittleSis. We will be using that and other public record information to shed light on who, exactly, is behind these efforts, and what their true agendas and interests are.
It is already clear that one of the main forces behind the Committee is the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), an industry association comprised of wealthy real estate and financial interests. REBNY’s president, Steven Spinola, and chair, Mary Ann Tighe, are on the board of the Committee, and Committee co-chair Rob Speyer is on REBNY’s executive committee. Speyer’s real estate firm, Tishman Speyer, has reportedly donated $1 million to the Committee, and other members of REBNY’s board have also donated to the Committee, including chair emeritus Stephen Ross (a billionaire) and the Durst Organization (Douglas Durst is on REBNY’s board).
REBNY’s board boasts many super-wealthy real estate investors and bankers, including billionaires Richard LeFrak, Stephen Ross, Leonard Stern, Sheldon Solow, and Jerry Speyer. Large real estate management firms like CB Richard Ellis, conglomerates such as Vornado Realty Trust, law firms such as Weil Gotshal Manges, and financial firms such as Barclays gain a voice in government through REBNY.
REBNY’s annual reports do not exactly paint a picture of an organization intent on tackling the state’s budget problems or easing the tax burden of the middle class. The reports detail a range of lobbying activities intended to lower the tax burden of big business and the super-rich, including advocating for equal income tax rates for billionaires and bus drivers, a continued “carried interest” tax break for hedge funds and real estate investment firms, and a continued tax abatement for condo owners in Manhattan. “Fiscal discipline,” in REBNY’s world, appears to mean helping wealthy, big business interests avoid paying taxes.
Judging from press reports, REBNY has a direct line to Cuomo’s office, but that has come at a high price: 26 of the organization’s board members donated $10,000 or more to his gubernatorial campaign, an incredible level of support from one organization.
There is much more research to be done on REBNY and other groups associated with the Committee. Who are they? What do they lobby for in Albany? What aspects of the budget and tax code benefit them? Do they pay their taxes?
Is this the Committee to Save New York, or the Committee to Scam New York? Join the research group to help us find out.
Note: For analysts who are more interested in the shadowy ways of Washington, Sunlight Foundation is leading an exciting investigation of Super PACs, the outside groups made possible by Citizens United that spent hundreds of millions of dollars influencing last year’s election. Go here to sign up for the research group and research a few Super PACs: where are they located? Who are their main officers? Do they have a website? Help us find out.