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Elite interests have given millions of dollars to super PACs backing candidates running against supporters of increased taxes on the wealthy and expanding tenants’ rights

New York State Capitol image by wadester16. via Flickr

The AIPAC-backed super PAC spending millions of dollars on the Democratic primary to unseat Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th Congressional District over his opposition to Israel’s genocide in Gaza has drawn attention from both local and national media. Stories have covered the sheer scale of spending and the fact that many of its wealthy funders are out-of-state billionaires and Republicans. However, much less attention has been paid to the billionaires and other elite interests spending heavily trying to sway the outcome of Democratic primaries in New York’s State Assembly.

Just two billionaires’ donations to two pro-charter school super PACs account for more than two-thirds of the more than $4.1 million in super PAC contributions reported to the state Board of Elections through June 7 of this year. According to disclosures, Michael Bloomberg, the richest man in New York, has given $2 million to two New York pro-charter school super PACs, giving $1.5 million to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany and $500,000 to Moving New York Families Forward. Jim Walton, an Arkansas-residing billionaire Walmart heir, gave $850,000 to Moving New York Families Forward. 

Other people pouring money into New York super PACs in advance of the June 25 primary include wealthy financiers and real estate executives like hedge fund billionaire Dan Loeb, hedge fund manager and major pro-charter school donor John Petry, real estate developer  Henry Elghanayan, and Frank Ricci, an Executive Vice President of the landlord lobbying group Rent Stabilization Association.

The super PACs are supporting both primary challengers and incumbents facing progressive primaries. Beneficiaries of the super PACs are all running against candidates who have been outspokenly in favor of taxing the ultra-rich and expanding tenant protections, while in government and during their campaigns. They include:

  • Stefani Zinerman, who is facing a primary challenge from Eon Huntley in Brooklyn and has benefited from $80,171 in super PAC spending;
  • Anathea Simpkins, the candidate seeking to unseat incumbent Emily Gallagher, and is the beneficiary of $64,567 in super PAC spending;
  • Michael Benedetto, a Bronx incumbent facing a primary challenge from Jonathan Soto and has had $52,400 spent on his behalf by super PACs;
  • Didi Barrett, a Hudson Valley incumbent being challenged by Claire Cousin and has benefited from $22,050 in super PAC spending; and
  • Gabi Madden, the candidate seeking to unseat Hudson Valley incumbent Sarahana Shrestha, and has had $15,000 spent on her behalf by super PACs.

There is a strong amount of overlap between the donors and targets of these real estate- and billionaire-backed super PACs, and the donors to and recipients of campaign contributions from the recently formed pro-Israel Solidarity PAC. According to a recent report by Chris Gelardi and Julia Rock for New York Focus, Solidarity PAC has channeled more than $300,000 into State Assembly and Senate races. 

LittleSis analyzed contribution and expenditure reports submitted by super PACs to the New York State Board of Elections from the beginning of 2024 through June 7. Details on the super PACs that are spending heavily so far in the primary races, their donors, and the races they are targeting follow below.

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany is a super PAC affiliated with the charter school lobbying group Students First New York, according to its reports with the Board of Elections. The super PAC has reported receiving $2.25 million in 2024 from just two billionaire donors – Michael Bloomberg and Jim Walton – who have a combined net worth of $190 billion, according to Forbes. New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has raised more than any other super PAC in New York this year. Its $2.25 million haul is more than three times the amount raised by the next top super PAC fundraiser. 

Previous donors to the super PAC include billionaire hedge fund managers like Dan Loeb of Third Point, Paul Singer of Elliott Management, Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital, and Julian Robertson of Tiger Management. 

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has reported spending $42,000 to support Stefani Zinerman’s State Assembly campaign against a challenge from DSA-backed Eon Huntley. Emma Bloomberg, the daughter of Michael Bloomberg, gave $19,000 to the pro-Israel Solidarity PAC – which is also supporting Zinerman – and the PAC’s candidates, according to New York Focus

The super PAC has also spent $92,400 backing  Taylor Darling, a current Assemblymember running for Senate against primary challenger Siela Bynoe on Long Island.

Moving New York Families Forward

Moving New York Families Forward is a super PAC affiliated with Education Reform Now Advocacy, another pro-charter school lobbying group. The group has received $730,000 in donations so far in 2024, more than all other super PACs in the state except for New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, with which it shares many donors, including top 2024 donors Michael Bloomberg, who gave $500,000 this year, and Jim Walton, who gave $100,000. Other 2024 donors to Moving New York Families Forward include:

  • Frank Ricci, the Executive Vice President of the Rent Stabilization Association, who gave $40,000;
  • John Petry, the founder of the hedge fund Sessa Capital and a charter school activist on the board of Education Reform Now, who gave $35,000;
  • Henry Elghanayan, a co-founder of Rockrose Development and board of governors member  of the Real Estate Board of NY, who gave $25,000;
  • Real estate investor Global Holdings Management Group, which gave $15,000;
  • Steven Price, the executive chairman of Townsquare Media, which owns hundreds of radio stations across the United States, who gave $10,000; and
  • Blair Effron, co-founder of investment banking firm Centerview Partners and board member of the New Visions for Public Schools charter school group, who gave $5,000.

Moving New York Families Forward has reported spending $132,717 so far in 2024, targeting three races. The group has spent $64,567 backing Anathea Simpkins’ campaign to unseat Brooklyn incumbent Emily Gallagher; $54,687 in support of Stefani Zinerman, who DSA-backed Eon Huntley is challenging; and $52,400 in support of Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Assemblymember facing a primary from the Working Families Party- and DSA-backed Jonathan Soto.

All three of the candidates that Moving New York Families Forward is supporting are also backed by Solidarity PAC.

New York Women Lead

New York Women Lead names former state DMV employee Elizabeth Carpenter as its treasurer in its reports to the state Board of Elections. Carpenter is married to Patricia Reilly, formerly of the influential lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns. The super PAC has reported raising $127,500 so far in 2024, entirely from real estate interests, including: 

  • $50,000 from commercial real estate investor Lighthouse Real Estate;
  • $25,000 from the Brodsky Organization;
  • $25,000 from Two Trees Management;
  • $15,000 from Samuel Tisch, the son of billionaire Loews Corporation CEO James Tisch; and 
  • $12,500 from SL Green

Through June 7, the group has reported spending $22,421 in support of Stefani Zinerman and $22,050 in support of incumbent Didi Barrett, who is running against the Working Families Party-endorsed Claire Cousins. Barrett is also being supported with donations channeled through Solidarity PAC. Alice Tisch and Elizabeth Tisch, family members of New York Women Lead donor Samuel Tisch, are both donors to Solidarity PAC.

Hudson Valley Voters

Hudson Valley Voters names real estate lobbyist George Fontas as its treasurer in its filings with the Board of Elections. Fontas was the second top-paid lobbyist in New York State in 2022, receiving $1.4 million to lobby for Homeowners for an Affordable New York, a front group for real estate lobbying organizations Real Estate Board of New York, Rent Stabilization Association, and Community Home Improvement Program. Fontas was also the top-paid lobbyist in New York City in 2023, receiving $1.1 million for his Homeowners for an Affordable New York lobbying. Homeowners for an Affordable New York took on the real estate industry’s fight against good cause eviction, which passed in a compromised form in the 2024 state budget.

Hudson Valley Voters has raised $49,000 so far in 2024 from a variety of sources, including a number of real estate firms. Donors include:

  • Stewart Meyers, the co-founder of a Kingston software company, who gave $23,000;
  • Corlies Manor Realty LLC, which gave $5,000;
  • Photographer David Silver, who gave $5,000;
  • Kingston landlord Robert Dittus Sr., who gave $2,000; and
  • Stas Housing LLC, Hudson Star Group LLC, Mana Tree Union Street LLC, 78-88 Spring St Corp, CIK LLC, Hawthorne Place LLC, LJ Management Group Inc., Robinson Art House LLCSpectrum Associates, Millers Lane Corp., Douglas Land, Mark Berlanga, Mark Epstein, and Daniel Harris Sorotkin, who all gave $1,000.

Through June 7, Hudson Valley Voters reported spending $15,000 on ads supporting Gabi Madden, who is challenging the Working Families Party- and DSA-backed Sarahana Shrestha, an ardent advocate for good-cause eviction. The Solidarity PAC is also supporting Madden.

Other real estate and billionaire super PACs wait in the wings

In addition to the nearly $300,000 that these four super PACs have spent to influence Democratic primaries so far this year, other super PACs backed by millions of dollars of real estate and billionaire money are poised to intervene in legislative races even though they have not yet reported spending. Stand Up PAC, a super PAC backed by hedge fund billionaire Dan Loeb, has reported $53,350 in donations this year and, according to Politico, recently pledged to spend more than $100,000 backing Michael Benedetto, Stefani Zinerman, and Jordan Wright, who is running for an open Assembly seat in Harlem and also has the backing of Solidarity PAC. Voters of New York, also known as “Defeat the DSA”, is a super PAC run by Jeff Leb, who has run previous super PACs targeting pro-tenant candidates with real estate money, has raised $127,300, including a $50,000 donation from Abro Management President Richard Scharf. Finally, the New York State Association of Realtors Fund, a super PAC affiliated with the lobbying group for real estate agents in New York, has raised $344,991 from the New York State Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.

Though New York has recently passed laws seeking to diminish the influence of big money in politics – including limits on donations channeled through LLCs and a public campaign finance system seeing its first wide implementation this year – elite interests can still pour millions into political campaigns. Between these super PACs, the Solidarity PAC, and individual campaign donations, New York’s billionaires and influential real estate industry have launched a networked effort to spend millions of dollars in a small handful of primaries to defeat candidates running on tenants’ rights and taxing the rich. The huge amounts of money being spent on these races shows that New York’s power elite see the State Assembly as key to maintaining their hold over state government.

Note (6/10/2024): Since this was written, more donations and expenditures by these super PACs have been disclosed to the New York State Board of Elections. Super PACs must disclose new contributions and expenditures within 24 hours through June 24, the day before the primary election. The City‘s June 10 reporting on New York Women Lead has a more up-to-date accounting of the fundraising and spending by that committee.