Five progressive Assembly candidates filed a joint complaint with the state Board of Elections claiming a pair of political action committees tied to real estate interests skirted election rules after sending attack mailers less than a month before the primary.
The candidates filed the complaint against the two super PACs — Voters of New York Inc., and Common Sense New Yorkers, Inc. — on Wednesday claiming no daily or weekly disclosure requirements were filed by the groups 30 days or less before an election, as mandated by state law. Both PACs’ disclosures, which date back to April and whose contributions total more than $1 million, were posted shortly after Gothamist reached out to Jeffrey Leb — treasurer for both PACs — pointing out the omission.
“There was an inadvertent omission that has since been rectified,” Leb wrote in response to the inquiry.
The distribution of the mailers adds to some last-minute mudslinging in several Assembly races, in which candidates endorsed by the Working Families Party are either running against an incumbent or vying for an open seat. Those challengers include Jessica Altagracia Woolford, Illapa Sairitupac, Vanessa Agudelo, Sarahana Shrestha and Samy Nemir Olivares, who all filed their complaint to the BOE.
“The public now has no way to evaluate the claims made in these mailers or whose interests they serve,” the letter read. “With the Primary Election only one week away, we ask that you act quickly to investigate these violations, bring the committees into compliance, and take any other action you deem necessary.”
The state BOE referred Gothamist to its enforcement division, which did not return a request for comment.
The distribution of the mailers amplifies a type of misinformation campaign aimed at misleading New Yorkers heading into the primary, according to Woolford, who was targeted by Common Sense New Yorkers, Inc.
The mailers landed in New Yorkers’ mailboxes this past weekend as early voting got underway, nine days before the primary. They all largely appear uniformly formatted: a darkened photo of the targeted candidate appears on the front of the flier with the words “Vote no” against the targeted candidate. The back of the mailers list either Common Sense New Yorkers, Inc. or Voters of New York, Inc. as financing the mailer.
“They’re just straight-up lying,” said Woolford, who is running against Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz of the 81st Assembly District in the north Bronx.
The negative flier against Woolford shows a photo of her with text reading, “I pledge to defund the police,” suggesting Woolford said it. The bottom of the flier reads Altagracia is “too extreme for the Bronx.”
“That was the dog whistle,” said Woolford, who received a text message showing the mailer on Saturday. She added the quote used in the mailer, which cites an article in the Daily News, never came from her. Gothamist was unable to find the quote in any articles from the outlet.
“It’s just one of those textbook examples of what the right does, frankly, when folks want to distract us from the day-to-day, the bread-and-butter issues that we are talking about, which is housing, unaffordability — especially in a district like ours,” Woolford said.
The filings submitted on June 22nd show many of the PAC's donors are heavyweights within New York City’s real estate industry. Among the contributors is Joseph Cayre, a billionaire who pumped $250,000 to Common Sense New Yorkers, Inc., the most of any PAC contributor. Cayre previously gave money to the campaigns of former President Donald Trump. Lisa Blau, the wife of Related Companies CEO Jeff Blau, gave $50,000 in April, according to filings.
Another major donor was United American Land LLC, a real estate firm with properties in SoHo, Tribeca, Union Square and parts of Downtown Brooklyn. Filings show the group gave $100,000. There was little information about other contributors, including Brunswick Logistics LLC, which was established in 2004, according to state records. Campaign filings show the company donated $100,000.
Voters of NY, Inc. received a $25,000 contribution from Silverstein Properties LLC, the developers behind One World Trade. Extell Development Company, another major real estate concern, gave $250,000, the largest of any contributor.
Tying those two PACs is Leb, who is treasurer for both. The PAC spent over $1.5 million on ads for or against candidates who ran for New York City Council last year, with a mixed record of success.
New York’s real estate industry held significant sway in New York politics until a blue wave rolled through the state and Democrats assumed control of both chambers in Albany in 2019. Their first order of business was passing a raft of pro-tenant legislation that would have been inconceivable only a year before.
For Shrestha, a progressive Democrat, the funding of the fliers underscores how seriously the real estate industry is taking these candidates.
“They know that we are the real threat because we’re going in there to not do the bare minimum. We’re going in there to actually make real change and that’s what they want to stop,” she said.
Correction: The article has been updated to include that the candidates who filed the complaint against the PACs are either running against incumbents or vying for an open seat.