Republican Long Island State Senator Elaine Phillips is running an upbeat digital ad in her re-election bid. Her district is in Nassau County's north shore.
Small print shows the committee backing her is Jobs for New York. The group behind says it is "New York City's most talented, energetic and influential real estate professionals."
Jobs for New York and other real estate groups have spent millions of dollars in recent elections, including on Republicans running for the state Senate, like Phillips.
Those senators wield plenty of power over New Yorkers' apartments.
An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 apartments lost rent protection over the past quarter-century. State laws govern whether more will follow.
And 2019 is particularly important: Rent regulations for more than one million apartments are expiring.
The state Assembly is seen as far more pro-tenant. Not so the state Senate, where just 3 of 32 senators in the current majority represent a district in New York City.
It may not seem to make sense. Why do state lawmakers representing areas far from the city get to decide laws over rents in the five boroughs? But that's the way it is: State lawmakers in Albany have final say over many local issues in New York City.
"Why do landlords from New York City give money to a senator from Plattsburgh or Oswego, when there's no rent regulation above Westchester and Rockland Counties?" said Michael McKee of Tenants PAC. "Because they think they can help them keep a lid on rent protections and stop our bills from passing."
Help with campaign contributions. Real estate donations top special interests at $49,528,015 as of Tuesday. That's more than lobbyists, unions, and lawyers.
But it's not just Republican senators. Records show that from 2010 until now, when Andrew Cuomo first ran for governor, real estate gave him $15,924,042, the most of any other industry, second only to uncoded (unspecified) donations, which have accounted for $25,251,381.
Of the more than $14 million the industry has spent since 2010 on state Senate races, 55 percent ($7,723,339) went to Republicans.
That doesn't tell the whole story, though. The biggest, most influential contributors, like the group behind that ad for Phillips, consistently give more to the GOP.
"The focus of the real estate lobby has been to keep the Republicans in control of the state Senate," McKee said. "Because they know that as long as the Republicans are in control of the state Senate, they can stop all pro-tenant legislation, which they have successfully done."
Who are they? Developer and landlord groups, and some real estate names you may recognize.
Then there are vague-sounding contributors, such as Arwin 74th St LLC and 92nd Realty. Who is behind these campaign contributions totaling millions of dollars?
A few clicks and these limited liability companies are traced to Glenwood Management. We studied Glenwood in late 2015 for its role in the corruption trials of former legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver. Back then, Glenwood topped campaign giving. But amid bad publicity, it's significantly tapped the brakes. That follows an industry-wide trend, with 2014 so far the high-water mark, at close to $18 million.
Approximate New York real estate campaign donations:
2018: $8 million
2016: $4 million
2014: $18 million
2012: $6 million
2010: $12 million
With a couple of weeks to go, 2018 is behind at about $8 million. In fact, a search in mid-October finds Phillips the only recipient of Jobs for New York's help.
Why the pullback? Observers say the predicted Democratic national wave could leave local Republicans in the undertow, losing their last grip on power in New York: The state Senate.
So while traditional Democratic allies, like public sector unions, are seen as giving, as a whole the real estate industry isn't following. That reflects ambiguity, and perhaps not wanting to anger Democrats ahead of an election that they may win.
Still, observers caution that there may be a spending surge in the final days of the campaign. The election is November 6.
The real estate industry may also be laying low. Leading industry groups declined to comment.
To varying degrees of success, real estate interests have been particularly attacked this year as nothing more than greedy landlords:
"There is a poison in New York City politics, which is big real estate money," Zephyr Teachout said in August as she campaigned for state attorney general.
The Republican senator leading the overseeing committee also declined an interview. Betty Little said in a statement, in part, "I look forward to a comprehensive dialogue balancing all of the factors that have an impact on housing affordability, including high property taxes."
A dialogue that could be quite different if a different party assumes power in Albany.