The lightly regulated machine of LLC campaign donations has continued to pump funds to New York state candidates and political action committees, with at least $2.9 million flowing just since the September 13 primary. That’s in addition to the $10.8 million in LLC giving earlier in 2018 and the $42 million LLCs gave in 2015-2017. Notably, some new names emerged among the top givers and receivers of the late-stage campaign cash.
Limited liability companies (LLCs) are a popular form of business ownership—combining the legal conveniences of a corporation with the tax advantages of a partnership or sole proprietorship. It’s a good fit for enterprises like real estate seeking to limit their liability, but a bad match for New York State’s campaign finance laws, which treat LLCs as people. That has led to three big problems.
First, the state’s loose donation limits for individuals mean LLCs, under the fiction that they are people, can give large amounts to each campaign. Second, because a company can create dozens of LLCs, it can have a huge financial impact on campaigns by using multiple LLCs to each give up to the limit. And third, because LLCs have obscure names (“RS LLC” and “MP 2020 LLC” are among those listed in state campaign finance reports), it can be difficult or impossible to find out where the money is really coming from, thwarting the principle of transparency that is fundamental to campaign finance laws.
City Limits and the Wayne Barrett Project of the Investigative Fund produced a comprehensive look at the problem and its impact back in September. There we identified the corporate headquarters linked to the largest tallies of LLC donations and the candidates and committees who received the largest share of the largesse. Real-estate entities made up the bulk of the former — and Gov. Andrew Cuomo dominated the latter.
Cuomo has remained one of the leading recipients of LLC money since the primary, but the battle for control of the State Senate has pushed the Republican Senate Campaign Committee and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to the top of the list. Cuomo ranks third, with the campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, for attorney general, coming it at fifth. Two PACs associated with the Real Estate Board of New York (the REBNY PAC and the Jobs for New York PAC) gave mightily. Balance New York is working to keep the state Senate red; LAWPAC represents trial lawyers.
Top Recipients of LLC Donations Since the Primary
|Recipient||Amount received since 9/13/2018|
|Senate Republican Campaign Committee||$505,500|
|Democratic Senate Campaign Committee||$272,000|
|Andrew Cuomo 2018, Inc.||$218,416|
|Jobs for New York||$166,000|
|James for NY||$155,850|
|New York State Democratic Committee||$140,000|
|Real Estate Board PAC||$134,000|
|Balance New York||$97,000|
|Suffolk County Democratic Committee||$89,400|
|LAWPAC of New York||$81,973|
Since LLC donations can reflect contributions that bear different company names but come from the same corporate headquarters, we looked at which addresses have been associated with the most giving since the September primary.
Real-estate companies are still among the biggest players as the campaign enters its final stretch. But a few other interests are also in the top 10 LLC donors. Brown & Weinraub is a lobbying company that has given through an LLC to its own PAC, which in turn has split its money between the major parties, inking identical checks to both the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee—essentially betting on the status quo. Big gifts to James and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul put MacAndrews & Forbes, a conglomerate that sells everything from makeup to military equipment, at No. 10.
Top Sources of LLC Donations Since the Primary
|Address||Amount donated since 9/13/2018||Source||Industry||Recipients|
|145 Huguenot Street, New Rochelle||$197,000||Multiple LLCs associated with S.W. Management||real estate||Balance New York, Senate Republican Campaign Committee|
|101 Park Avenue, Manhattan||$125,750||H.J. Kalikow & Co.||real estate||Senate Republican Campaign Committee , DiNapoli 2018, Inc., Committee to Elect Judge Norman St. George, Jobs For New York, Pravato for New York, Renew New York PAC, Friends of Tom O’Mara, Real Estate Board PAC, Friends for Kathy Hochul|
|420 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan||$111,750||SL Green Management LLC||real estate||Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Andrew Cuomo 2018, Inc., Jobs for New York, Real Estate Board PAC, David Carlucci for New York|
|250 Vesey Street, Manhattan||$100,000||Brookfield Properties Developer LLC||real estate||New York State Democratic Committee|
|870 7th Avenue, Manhattan||$100,000||Highgate Hotels Gp LLC||hotels/real estate||Democratic Senate Campaign Committee|
|387 Park Avenue South, Manhattan||$81,000||TF Cornerstone Group LLC||real estate||Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Jobs for New York|
|11 West 42nd Street, Manhattan||$80,000||Tishman Speyer Development LLC||real estate||Kaminsky 2018, Gaughran 2018, New York State Democratic Committee, Friends of Karen S. Smythe, Friends of James Skoufis, Friends of Monica Martinez, Senate Republican Campaign Committee , Friends of Aaron Gladd, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee , Real Estate Board PAC|
|45 Main Street, Brooklyn||$75,500||Two Trees Management Co,. LLC||real estate||David Carlucci for New York, Gaughran 2018, James for NY, Friends of Steve Cohn, Friends of Aaron Gladd, Real Estate Board PAC|
|50 State Street, Albany||$65,000||Brown & Weinraub, PLLC||lobbying/law||BW PAC, Citizens for Hannon|
|35 East 62nd Street, Manhattan||$55,000||MacAndrews & Forbes Group, LLC||multiple||Friends for Kathy Hochul, James for NY|
It’s worth noting that it’s the top address—145 Huguenot Street—that best reflects the issues that arise with LLC giving. Seventy-nine separate donations from 79 different LLCs emerged from that address, headed toward Balance New York or the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Those LLCs own properties where Stanley Wasserman of S.W. Management is listed as head officer in city property registrations.
One of the big promises that both Gov. Cuomo and the Senate Democrats have made is that if the State Senate goes blue, closing the LLC loophole will be a top priority. It will be interesting to see what happens if voters give them the chance to make good on that promise.
This article was reported in partnership with The Wayne Barrett Project at The Investigative Fund.