N.Y. Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s campaign cash flow contradicts past promises

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman has vowed repeatedly that his political operation would not accept money from campaign donors tied to the real estate industry, corporate PACs or lobbyists, but it turns out he hasn’t exactly stuck to that commitment.

Bowman, a Bronx and Westchester Democrat who ascended to Congress in 2021 after defeating former Rep. Eliot Engel in a hard-fought primary, made his power-to-the-people pledge early and often in his run against the 16-term incumbent, framing the decision as a nod to the working class over “the wealthy elite.”

But a review of federal campaign finance records offers a different perspective, showing he has in fact taken money from corporate PACs, and from lobbyists and real estate interests.

His campaign accepted donations from the American Hospital Associations PAC and the American Council of Engineering Companies PAC totaling $4,500 in June 2023, records show. It’s taken in $2,000 from Justin Gray of the lobbying firm Gray Global Advisors and accepted nearly the same amount from Michael Hacker, a lobbyist for TikTok.

Bowman has leaned on the real estate industry for campaign support as well, raking in more than $5,000 between 2019 and 2023 from Alex Eaton, owner of EIG Property Management and Real Estate, and $1,600 from Joseph Zitolo, a principal at the real estate firm Lemle & Wolff.

But those contributions represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the money that Bowman’s campaign — or political entities that support him — have received from sources the congressman previously promised not to draw from.

In total, his campaign and the Squad Victory Fund, which supports him and other members of the socialist-leaning “Squad” like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, accepted just shy of $60,000 from real estate interests from 2019 to the present, a Daily News analysis of FEC filings found. He’s also taken $6,500 in money from PACs that represent corporate entities — $2,000 of which, from the the Real Estate Roundtable PAC, has been refunded — as well as about $18,000 from lobbyists overall.

When contacted about the discrepancy between Bowman’s words and deeds, Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for the campaign, said that Bowman has remained true to the No Corporate PAC Money Pledge and that when the NextEra Energy PAC attempted to donate $5,000, the money was refunded in a matter of weeks.

That particular pledge was created by End Citizens United, which is dedicated to campaign finance reform. According to that group, the term “corporate PAC” isn’t subjective, but a category set by the FEC.

Despite that, Bowman was saying he wouldn’t take money from corporate PACs before receiving End Citizen United’s endorsement, and the two PACs that he didn’t return donations from — the American Hospital Associations PAC and the American Council of Engineering Companies PAC — are for trade associations that represent a variety of corporate entities.

Neidhardt also did not say that Bowman hasn’t accepted money from lobbyists and real estate interests, noting merely that he hasn’t “solicited” such contributions.

“The campaign has never solicited donations from lobbyists nor real estate executives and the Congressman directly informs lobbyists that he does not accept lobbyist donations,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have donated to the campaign, which is conducting a full review to remain true to our pledges.”

How well that response will fly in the 16th Congressional District is unclear.

Bowman, a progressive, is now facing a primary challenge from George Latimer, the Westchester County executive who’s viewed as politically more moderate. The challenge is coming, at least in part, in response to Bowman’s call for a ceasefire to Israel’s war against Hamas, as well as his past affiliation with the Democratic Socialists of America, which has also come under attack for how it reacted after Hamas massacred scores of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.

Bowman has also had to contend with the controversy that ensued after he pulled a Capitol Hill fire alarm, which resulted in him being censured by his fellow lawmakers. He was cleared by the House Ethics Committee, which declined to open a probe into the matter.

John Tomlin, a political consultant who’s worked on several Westchester County races, said the disconnect between Bowman’s promises and what he’s actually done won’t help in what’s expected to be a closely watched primary battle.

“You need to be able to trust the word of your elected officials, especially if their profile is built on talking,” Tomlin said. “If you can’t believe what they’re saying, then you’ve lost the trust.”

Bowman has had a lot to say about what kind of contributions he would not be accepting.

In a profile by Vox, he told a reporter that as a member of a new generation of pols that’s “driven by the working class,” he doesn’t take “corporate PAC money at all.”

“We’re held accountable by our constituents, not by corporations and the wealthy elite,” he said.

And he repeatedly made it a selling point in his campaign against Engel — and continued to do so after his victory.

“While we don’t accept a cent from corporate PACs or lobbyists, that’s where Eliot Engel gets most of his money,” he said in one campaign email sent in June 2020.

A year later, his campaign said in a fundraising email saying that “we’re proud that Jamaal doesn’t take checks from lobbyists or billionaire donors — but that does mean a significant portion of our fundraising comes from emails just like this one.”

The vow not to accept such donations isn’t the only specific promise about campaign cash that Bowman has made, though.

He also signed off on a “Homes Guarantee” pledge in November 2020 in which he agreed to “reject all real estate and developer contributions.”

“I’m fighting for a #HomesGuarantee because I grew up in public housing and rent controlled apartments,” he wrote on X a month later.

Included with that statement was a graphic stating that he would reject “dark money from real estate.”