The No on Prop 21 campaign simply can’t be trusted — but that shouldn’t be surprising.
After all, the real estate industry, which is bankrolling the multi-million-dollar effort to stop Proposition 21, has long been known for money laundering and “pay-to-play” schemes to grab land-use approvals from politicians. Now such Big Real Estate titans as Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman (pictured above) and billionaire landlord Geoffrey Palmer continue to use a shell committee to funnel millions to No on 21, forcing the Yes on Prop 21 campaign to file a lawsuit.
“It’s very disturbing to see,” said Dr. Trent Lange, executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign, a non-partisan watchdog that seeks open and accountable government, at a Yes on 21 press conference. “Most campaigns, and certainly the Yes on 21 campaign, are not using shell committees.”
Prop 21 is the November ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. It’s why U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the California Democratic Party, and California’s housing justice movement have thrown their full support behind Prop 21.
In stark contrast, the No on 21 campaign is funded by the largest corporate landlords in the U.S.: Equity Residential, Essex Property Trust, and AvalonBay Communities have contributed $11.3 million to No on Prop 21: Californians for Responsible sponsored by the California Apartment Association, the lead No on 21 committee.
In total, the real estate industry has formed four No on 21 committees and raised a whopping $43.6 million to stop Prop 21. Additionally, Blackstone Group, billionaire landlord Geoffrey Palmer, Western National Group CEO Michael Hayde, and other real estate heavyweights have contributed $22.6 million to the California Business Roundtable Issues PAC to funnel millions to No on Prop 21: Californians to Protect Affordable Housing. That’s where the lawsuit comes in.
The other week, the Yes on 21 campaign filed a formal complaint with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, charging that Californians to Protect Affordable Housing and Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association have violated the Political Reform Act by engaging in money laundering activities. Now the Yes on 21 campaign is going to court.
This week, Yes on 21 filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County that charges serious violations of the Political Reform Act by Californians to Protect Affordable Housing and Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association.
Yes on 21 seeks to compel the No on 21 committees to follow state laws that “govern disclosure of political contributions and the disclaimers placed on political advertising,” according to the lawsuit. Yes on 21 also asks the court for a “preliminary injunction to prevent these activities from continuing during the remainder of the 2020 election cycle.”
After Yes on 21 filed its complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, the California Business Roundtable Issues PAC contributed another $2.1 million to Californians to Protect Affordable Housing. Blackstone Group (led by billionaire CEO Stephen Schwarzman), Palmer, and Hayde’s money was still being funneled into the No on 21 committee without public disclosure.
In total, Blackstone has shelled out $7 million to the California Business Roundtable Issues PAC. Hayde and Palmer have delivered $4,560,000 and $2,075,000, respectively. Other real estate companies include Lewis Investment Company ($2 million), Cypress Management Company ($1.5 million), Macerich Management Company ($1 million), and Kilroy Realty, LP ($1 million).
Yes on 21 also found that Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association failed to disclose the true sources of contributions involving the aggregation of contributions made by related entities.
“They appear to be playing a shell game here,” said Dr. Lange, who is not affiliated with the Yes on 21 campaign. “It’s something that voters should take into account.”
With Californians to Protect Affordable Housing not fully disclosing the major source of its funding and Californians for Responsible Housing hiding the identities of its contributors, the No on 21 committees are trying to pull a fast on California voters. They won’t know exactly who’s trying to stop Prop 21.
On top of that, controversial No on 21 spokesman Steve Maviglio, who’s long represented corporate America, tries to hide the fact that Big Real Estate’s motive to kill Prop 21 is to protect its massive profits — made by charging wildly inflated rents and fleecing California renters. Prop 21 would end that by instituting rent limits.
It’s predictable behavior by Big Real Estate and it’s high-priced mouthpiece Steve Maviglio — they can’t seem to stop themselves from engaging in dirty tricks. California voters, though, have the power to fight back and stand up for what’s right — by passing Proposition 21.
Patrick Range McDonald is an award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.