Who Bought and Paid for Fred Akshar?Posted: January 9, 2016
By: Andy Pragacz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Undersheriff turned State Senator, Fred Akshar, was elected by huge margins to the New York State Senate in November. His campaign was largely built around his outsider status. In one campaign ad, he detailed his lacked of experience in Albany and in political life generally as his best quality. “Instead of spending time with the big money lobbyist in Albany,” the ad had him saying, “I’ve been spending time with the most important special interest group I know: my family and the families in this area.” In another ad he promised to get “our fair share” out of Albany and promised that voting for him would prevent “New York City politicians [from getting] total control over state government.” Unsurprisingly, this anti-politician, anti-New York City, anti-Albany, pro-family, anti-crime campaign resonated with the small group of people who vote in the area, who tend to be older, more conservative, wealthier, and whiter than the population at large.
While it’s unclear how a person with no political experience whatsoever could hope to “get our fair share” and fight the combined powers of New York City and Albany, what’s not clear is the reality the rhetoric is designed to mask: Fred Akshar is bought and paid for by the same “big money” interests he pledges to fight against. His election, far from turning Albany upside down, reinforces the political status quo. Looking over the most recent campaign financial disclosures, we can answer the question: Who bought and paid for Fred Akshar?
- Over 65% ($450,000 plus) of Akshar’s money came from outside the district, most of it originating from New York City and Albany.
- Another 17% (approximately $117,000) from just 21 wealthy local donors who contributed more than $2,000 each.
- Over 40% ($300,000 plus) of Akshar’s money came from Republican organizations. The NYS Senate Republicans alone contributed $168,000.
- Real estate interests, downstate landlord organizations in particular, were also generous contributors as were trade unions, like AFSCME, CSEA, IBEW, and PEF.
- Construction interests, police officer, and firefighters’ organizations also gave.
Why was so much money spent on Akshar?
The election was never seriously contested. Akshar won with 79% of votes cast—a massive margin– and was consistently 20% ahead in polls. You might expect that once it was clear Akshar would win, raising and spending money to win would be less important. No way. Rather, like all pets, all politicians need owners. Having never held political office Akshar was not yet in anybody’s pocket. In the perverse world of New York State politics, the frontrunner in an election must be donated to. Donating to a campaign is like purchasing stock: the more you give the more of them you own. A failure to donate would mean a lack of access.
Why did New York City and Republicans give so generously? Republicans control the New York State Senate with a slim margin. Losing the 52nd Senate District would have made a majority of those in the State Senate elected as Democrats, potentially shifting the balance of political power. New York City landlords had a lot to lose if Democrats took control, in particular the $1.1 billion yearly subsidy they receive called 421-a. The 421-a program gives property tax breaks to New York City landlords who create “affordable” housing. However, as numerous reports have demonstrated, this program does not create many affordable units due to combination of poor oversight, a disregard for the rules by landlords, and a definition of “affordable” that few would find reasonable. This subsidy persists because of the influence of NYC landlords in Albany. One massive real estate company, Glenwood Management who funneled over $12 million in New York elections since 2005, for example, was at the heart of the corruption scandals that brought down the leader of both the NYS Senate and Assembly. Watchdog group Reinvent Albany called the 421-a program “the center of corruption in New York.”
If Fred Akshar is bought and paid by New York City landlords, Republican donors, Albany “big money” lobbyist, and wealthy persons in the district, who does he represent? Is he going to take on the same people who put in him power?