Can Real Estate Businesses Succeed in New York Without Making Big Political Contributions?


The real estate industry makes the largest campaign contributions to New York politicians. This makes sense, because the state can make them rich with tax abatements, economic development aid, and regulations on rent. Big real estate political donors are at the center of the ongoing Sheldon Silver scandal, the end of the Moreland Commission, and further investigations by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Today there was a routine story in Crains about the Empire State Development Authority’s (ESD) selection of the Simone Development Companies for the construction of a $16m mixed-use project in The Bronx. We do not know anything about Simone, but out of curiosity decided to do a quick look at their owners’ and senior management’s contribution to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the ESD.

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It appears that the owner of Simone and senior managers have given $32,997 to Governor Cuomo and the State Democratic Fund that he controls. The governor has raised around $50 milllion, so this is not a lot for Cuomo. But it is a lot more in campaign contributions than all but a tiny percentage of New Yorkers have given the governor. Is this why Simone got the job? We do not know. Do real estate businesses have to donate something to even be considered for a state contract? We do not know, but judging from how much they contribute, they seem to think so.