Astoria Cove Developer Donates Above ‘Pay to Play’ Limits [Updated]
Tobias Salinger Aug. 7, 2014, 5:20 p.m.
Despite the city’s tough restrictions on donations by officials at companies that are engaged in business dealings with the city, John Mavroudis of Astoria Cove developer Alma Realty Corp. gave contributions far above the amounts mandated by the city’s so-called “pay to play” rules, according to campaign finance records.
With a $500 contribution to Queens Council Member Mark Weprin and a $1,000 donation to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, the high-ranking Alma executive doubled the allowable limit for donations to City Council candidates and more than tripled the limit for campaign checks to borough president candidates through loopholes in the database that’s supposed to track individuals and entities who are lobbying the city for land use actions.
“It raises a lot of concerns that this is a law that’s already on the books and Mavroudis is in open violation; that’s very disturbing,” said Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing and a leader in the “Affordability for All Coalition” that’s pushing the development team to include more affordable units in the 1,723-unit, 2.2-million-square-foot development overlooking Pot Cove.
But even though the company’s rezoning proposal underwent a public hearing before the City Planning Commission yesterday, neither Mr. Mavroudis nor Alma Realty shows up in the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services listing of more than 23,000 individuals and 6,000 businesses and nonprofits who benefit from city contracts, employ registered lobbyists or have other vested interests with the city, including rezoning proposals.
Names and companies in the database usually trigger refunds for donations above $250 to City Council candidates, $320 to borough president candidates and $400 to mayoral candidates from respective campaigns, but no such payback has yet taken place with the two contributions that the developer made just weeks after the Department of City Planning certified the Astoria Cove proposal on April 21. The logistics of maintaining the vast database apparently threw the city in this case, said Gene Russianoff, the staff attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“It’s not a doing business contribution if you’re not on the doing business list,” said Mr. Russianoff. “The complexities mean that some people will get out from under. The law should be designed so that it’s easier to prevent these contributions.”
The Mayor’s Office of Contract Services didn’t respond to requests for comment.
But officials with the city Campaign Finance Board, which has implemented the “Doing Business” regulations since the City Council passed the limits in 2007, said donations from Alma executives should conform to the restrictions.
“This type of transaction is covered by the doing business law,” said Matthew Sollars, a spokesman for the board. “Individuals controlling the firm should be subject to the lower contribution limits. In this case, the individual was not listed in the database, so it appears the campaigns did not violate the law.”
Mr. Weprin, who serves on the Council’s Land Use Committee, declined to comment. But representatives for Ms. Katz, who recently issued a disapproval recommendation on Astoria Cove, said Mr. Mavroudis’s name didn’t show up in the database when campaign officials checked and pledged to return the entire donation.
Mr. Mavroudis is expecting refunds in both cases, said Thomas Butler of Butler Associates, a representative for the company that’s only part of a group of investors who are pursuing the rezoning of the 8.7-acre industrial site.
“One individual involved with the project applicant, 2030 Astoria Developers, is apparently due back a slight refund that the two campaigns are working on,” Mr. Butler said in a statement.
Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from the city Campaign Finance Board.