Conservative Party's Crusade Was Funded by Landlord Lobby

by Andrea Bernstein
NY Observer, May 5, 1997

"Right now we're in danger of not only having rent control
renewed, but made even worse by the bill pending in Sheldon
Silver's Assembly. Your signature on the enclosed letter to
Silver, and your generous contribution to the Conservative Party,
will put our campaign to end rent control into high gear."

So exhorted an urgent letter from Michael Long, state chairman of
the Conservative Party, to 35,000 "fellow taxpayers" earlier this
spring. Mr. Long was making good on a promise he'd uttered at a
gathering of party faithful last February, when he vowed to do
"everything we can to put as much pressure on as many
legislators" as possible to end the state's rent regulation laws.

Do Conservatives have an ideological affinity for decontrolling
rents? Mr. Long naturally says Yes. But an Observer review of
1996 campaign filings found that, just as landlord groups were
gearing up for an all-out war on rent regulations, real estate
interests gave at least $65,000 to the 160,000-member third
party. Of that, $45,000 came from the Rent Stabilization
Association Political Action Committee, and another PAC
associated with the Rent Stabilization Association known as the
Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund.

That makes the landlord lobby the single largest contributor to
the Conservative Party last year -- with most of its
contributions. $35.000. coming in October, just two months before
State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno brought the rent wars
public in a speech before, of all people, the Rent Stabilization
Association. The lobby's big contributions went to a party that
regularly files hundreds of pages of donor lists, most in the $25
to $250 range.

Mr. Long dismissed any connection between the contributions and
his sudden activism on the issue of rent control. "Ever since the
party was formed, 35 years ago, we've been opposed to rent
control," he said in a telephone interview from his Bay Ridge
liquor store. "Did we see an opportunity? This might be a year we
can make serious changes. That's why we're looking to do more

Said Joseph Strasburg of the Rent Stabilization Association:
"R.S.A. was supportive of the Conservative Party before I came on
the scene here, based on the fact that, ideologically, they
support a free-market approach to rent regulation. You support
those organizations that support your position or are at least

But Mr. Strasburg is well known for his clever deployment of
campaign contributions. A study by the New York Public Interest
Research Group, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters found
that the more than $200,000 doled out by his Neighborhood
Preservation PAC had made it the fourth largest PAC contributor
to state legislative campaigns in 1996. (The top three were
teachers, health care interests and trial lawyers.)

Though tiny, the Conservative Party wields tremendous power in
Albany -- a fact of which Mr. Long is well aware. "Here at the
Conservative Party, we know the power we can have in Albany when
the taxpayers are on our side," his letter boasted. "In 1994,
even though we had only 125,000 registered Conservative voters,
we delivered 328,000 votes for Governor Pataki on our
Conservative ballot line... " That was more than twice the
Governor's margin of victory that year. Mr. Strasburg agreed with
that assessment. "Just like Ray Harding's Liberal Party was
instrumental in getting Rudy Giuliani elected, if not for the
Conservative Party, Mario Cuomo would still be Governor," he

It's a power that makes tenant groups view the party as a serious
opponent. "The Conservative Party plays a very important role in
any close election in New York State," said Billy Easton,
executive director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors
Coalition. "The threat of withholding endorsement is a very
serious matter. There are a lot of elections where the
Conservative Party can tip the balance. And they can play the
same role as Joe Bruno—adding another extremist voice for total
decontrol, which makes the Governor's position look moderate."

Meanwhile, Mr. Long has collected 3,000 letters to Speaker
Silver, which he promised to release at a press conference in
early May. Nor will that be the end of it. "I certainly hope to
do more" to up the ante on this issue, Mr. Long told The
Observer. "I hope to do a lot more."