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Nassau Democrats get more money from tax-challenge firms

Photo shows a neighborhood in Elmont in July

Photo shows a neighborhood in Elmont in July 2019. County Executive Laura Curran ordered a countywide property reassessment that aims to create an accurate assessment roll to  reduce the number of successful tax grievances.   Credit: Newsday/John Keating

Tax challenge firms in 2019 have contributed more money to Nassau County Democratic candidates than in any year in more than a decade, after directing most of their money to Republicans for years, according to state data. 

The tax grievance firms, their owners, employees and family members gave Democratic candidates and committees $102,925 through Sept. 30, a Newsday analysis of state Board of Elections records shows.

The firms, which file tax grievances on behalf of property owners, gave Democrats $32,300 in 2018; $94,166 in 2017; $57,050 in 2016; $12,150 in 2015; and $10,087 in 2014, records show.

The companies gave Republicans a total of $182,195 in 2019; $247,315 in 2018; $492,975 in 2017; $269,200 in 2016; and $283,472 in 2015.

Since 2006, the tax firms have given a total of $359,278 to Democrats and $2,668,712 to Republicans, state records show.

The donations reflect a reassessment of sorts of the shifting political landscape since Democrat Laura Curran was elected county executive in 2017 and the election of state senators from Nassau and Suffolk helped Democrats take control of the Senate the following year.

The Nassau Democratic Committee this year has made a big push to preserve Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen's seat and reclaim the majority in the county legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.

Tim Costa, spokesman for Maidenbaum Property Tax Reduction Group, didn't address the issue of changing political alliances directly. But Costa said firm owner "Shalom Maidenbaum is proud to represent homeowners seeking justice in one of the highest taxed counties in America and he is equally proud to support good candidates from both parties who put taxpayers’ interests first.”

Nassau Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said of the tax grievance firms: “The fact that they’re choosing to donate to different candidates and different parties, that’s part of their right. There’s nothing untoward about it. It just points out that it should not have been an issue in this race or any race. People can donate to whomever they want to, but don’t expect an action that correlates with a donation.”

Last year, Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs took credit for publishing a glossy “Monopoly Board” placard. It featured GOP county lawmakers as board game “properties,” and noted how much tax firms had contributed to their campaigns.

Democrats handed them out to residents last December at a Republican-run assessment hearing that drew 700 people.

The board featured the question, “Why are property taxes so high and the assessment system such a mess?” A “Chance” card read, “Because Republican elected officials were bought off with campaign contributions.”

Jacobs said last week, "the tax cert lawyers, like lots of groups, see that the winds of change have come to Nassau. They decided to support the Democratic Party more. That’s all there is to it. It certainly has nothing to do with what our policy is.”

He continued, “It’s evident that they’re not in love with the reassessment.”

Jacobs said he has had conversations with representatives from the tax firms and has “no difficulty accepting money from any group, as long as they’re reputable and not anyone we would feel bad associating with."

He continued: "Certainly, they’ve not asked us to do anything. Nor would I comply with that based on campaign contributions.”

Among Democratic candidates, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas received the most from the tax grievance companies — $23,000 so far this year, state records show.

Ilana Maier, campaign manager for Singas, did not directly address the donations from tax firms. But Maier said Singas “has broad support from Nassau residents who appreciate that crime and overdoses have dropped more than 20% in her first term." Singas is running against Republican Frank McQuade, a Long Beach attorney. McQuade has received no contributions from tax firms.

Curran accepted a total of $55,100 from the tax firms or their employees and family members last year and in 2017, when she was running for county executive, according to campaign reports. She has not accepted new donations from the firms since January 2018.

“County Executive Curran was very clear about her intentions before she was elected. Since taking office she has worked to fix the assessment system broken and corrupted by Ed Mangano," said Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed, referring to Curran's GOP predecessor.

The Nassau Democratic Party also has benefited recently from contributions from the tax firms. In August, the firms’ political action committee, the Committee for Fair Property Taxes, gave $50,000 to the Nassau County Democratic Committee, state records show.

Nassau Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown) called it “the height of hypocrisy for Laura Curran or any Democrat to accuse the Republicans or imply negativity while they're accepting as much, if not more, from those same people.” 

Ferretti continued: “The issue I have is with Laura Curran and the Nassau Democrats essentially having an entire platform on this issue, and then accepting tens of thousands of dollars from the very people they’ve been critical [of]. I think the taxpayer will see through it.”

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, said he “wasn’t aware that the party accepted the donation. But either way, based off of the actions of the county executive, it has not had any influence on her decisions."

Curran's countywide property reassessment aims to create an accurate assessment roll to end or dramatically reduce the number of successful tax grievances. When the tax firms file the challenges, they typically take a cut of property tax reductions.

Curran is “breaking down the system that had benefited tax grievance companies for years,” Abrahams said.

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