WASHINGTON — Republican Wendy Long charged Thursday that her Democratic opponent, Sen. Chuck Schumer, has engaged in “pay to play” by raising campaign funds from developers who benefit from the federal immigrant investor program.
Schumer has raised $1 million from real estate interests since 2011, including a law firm with a prominent practice in the EB-5 visa program that has contributed $82,200 to his campaign fund, according to a Long news release. It did not include a specific case.
“The immigration laws of the United States should not be used to buy and sell political favors,” Long said.
A Schumer aide denied the allegation.
The EB-5 visa was established in 1990 as a job-creation program, offering foreign investors a green card for an immigrant in return for a capital investment of $500,000 in a commercial enterprise in a rural or high-unemployment area.
But there is controversy about how some states define a high-unemployment area.
New York State often combines New York City census tracts that are commercially attractive with census tracts where many residents are out of work, and has drawn among the highest amount of foreign investment from the visa program.
“The whole idea behind the EB-5 visa was to help create jobs in economically disadvantaged areas. But where big bucks are involved, corruption soon follows, and with Chuck Schumer and the EB-5 visa program, you need to follow the money,” she said. “Schumer claims that putting the development projects in ‘poor people areas . . . won’t happen.’ ”
Schumer spokesman Matt House disputed Long’s characterization and editing of the senator’s views of the program.
“Sen. Schumer believes that EB-5 works best, and creates the most jobs for those who need them, when the program supports projects where actual need exists — not just predetermined government zones,” House said.
“The senator strongly supports a variety of EB-5 projects in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and in other places where smart development can create new jobs,” he said.
In recent years, Congress has been debating the EB-5 visa program in a split that’s along urban-rural lines, not partisan lines. At an April Senate hearing on the program, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued that more visas should be used for rural development and pushed for a stricter definition of a high unemployment urban area. But Schumer and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) disagreed.
“The idea of the program is to help poor people. And because of the anomaly of cities, poor people don’t live right next door to the project,” Schumer said.
“And I would disagree with one of the witnesses who said, ‘Oh, we want to put the projects only in poor people areas.’ It won’t happen. It’s not how cities are structured. So there will be no jobs for poor people in urban areas, or making some changes that make sense.”
Long said, “I would end the EB-5 program altogether, if we cannot establish that it can be used only to bring development to impoverished places where it otherwise truly would not occur under normal American market forces. In midtown and downtown Manhattan, that is clearly not the case.”