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Airbnb Draws Scrutiny for Donations to NY Senator’s Campaign Following Favorable Legislation

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Last year, Airbnb’s campaign arm, Stronger Neighbors PAC, spent close to $500,000 in support of NY State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat from Orange County. Photo Credit: www.nysenate.gov

Airbnb has drawn scrutiny after the introduction of legislation that, if passed, would legalize and regulate home-sharing in the city and throughout the state. The main sponsor of the piece of legislation is state Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat from Orange County. Last year, Airbnb’s campaign arm, Stronger Neighbors PAC, spent close to $500,000 in support of Senator Skoufis.

On Thursday, the home-sharing site was censured by a broad range of critics from across the political spectrum. There was renewed attention to the contributions, and whether this very favorable legislation might be as a result of the campaign support. “This is a bad bill that puts tenants in harm’s way while paving the way for the loss of affordable housing,” Mike McKee, the treasurer of the progressive advocacy group Tenants PAC, said in a statement. “No amount of campaign spending should be worth selling out housing protections or going back on your own word to clean up Albany’s pay-to-play culture.”

“After accepting a half-a-million in donations from Airbnb interests, Senator Skoufis changed his position on home-sharing,” Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “There is no bathroom stall where he could hide from this long enough, and no tweet that he could use to shade the truth. This pay-to-play behavior from the Senate’s Investigations Committee Chair likely warrants its own investigation.”

As reported by the NY Daily News, records show that last year Airbnb spent more than twice as much on Skoufis than it did on all the other candidates it backed put together. The company’s PAC spent $498,273 on TV, radio, digital and print ads in support of Skoufis’s campaign. Only $224,000 was spent by the group on four other candidates combined.

Skoufis, too, took the heat with charged comments against him on twitter. In one particular exchange with the Hotel Trade Council, Skoufis pushed back, cancelling a meeting with what he called the “unprofessional thugs” at the union.

Skoufis’ proposed bill, which is backed by Airbnb, would have limitations such as a ban on short-term rentals in affordable housing or rent-stabilized units and limit city residents to listing a single property on home-sharing sites. It would also require home-sharing sites to register the names of hosts with the state and collect occupancy taxes on behalf of the city and state. Currently, the law impose heavy fines on homeowners who rent out their entire home for less than 30 days, and opponents hold the proposed laws don’t provide enough oversight on the home-sharing industry.

“Anyone accusing him of sponsoring a bill because of campaign support does not know him and has not bothered to look at his record as a legislator,” said Skoufis’ communications director Jess Gulotta, in defense of the 31-year-old lawmaker. “He supported the bill before that PAC even gave him money. This is a matter of policy and the opposition is using personal slander to get their way.”

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