Watchdog: Lobby group gave Cuomo nearly $2M since 2011

The Real Estate Board of New York, an

The Real Estate Board of New York, an influential lobby, has contributed nearly $2 million to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and $453,000 to Long Island state senators since 2011, according to government watchdog groups. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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ALBANY -- Members of the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential lobby, have contributed nearly $2 million to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and $453,000 to Long Island state senators since 2011, according to government watchdog groups.

The group, known as REBNY and composed of dozens of leading real estate companies, has been one of the most generous campaign donors to New York politicians in recent years, according to Citizen Action and Common Cause. The watchdogs have asked a state panel, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, to investigate REBNY's contributions and influence on legislation.

Cuomo's office reportedly quashed a subpoena that the commission intended to issue to REBNY. The governor, who created the corruption panel in July, this week denied directly ordering any commission action, but didn't answer directly when asked if his office advised the panel.

Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, one of the commission co-chairs, has said claims about the panel lacking independence are false.

Citizen Action said that REBNY has donated $1.99 million to Cuomo and $2.1 million to state Senate candidates since 2011. This includes $453,000 to Long Island senators.

The biggest recipient of REBNY money on the Island was Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), $153,483. That was about one-third of the money Boyle raised for his successful 2012 campaign, according to Citizen Action, which has long campaigned for public financing of political campaigns.

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Boyle declined to comment.

Other major recipients of REBNY donations on the Island were Sens. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), $66,000; Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), $63,500; and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), $60,300.

REBNY has lobbied for development tax breaks, among other things. The corruption panel has subpoenaed five high-profile developers, sources have said.

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Karen Scharff of Citizen Action said the campaign donations were permissible under New York's flimsy election laws -- and that's the problem.

"It's all legal, but not good for the public," Scharff said.

Citizen Action and Common Cause have asked the commission to take a "deeper" look at REBNY contributions.

"REBNY has already cooperated with the Moreland Commission and will continue to do so," Cara Gentile, a spokeswoman for REBNY said Friday. Previously, REBNY has said that all of its contributions were legal and that good-government groups were singling it out while ignoring other big donors, such as unions.

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