Airbnb fights back against lobby groups, demands funding info

ALBANY — The battle between Airbnb and its critics continues to escalate.

The online home-sharing site on Monday will file a formal complaint with a state ethics panel charging that a coalition of unions, lawmakers and other Airbnb opponents has engaged in illegal and unreported lobbying.

The ShareBetter coalition, which is largely funded by the city hotel industry and its worker union, is set to fire back with its own ethics complaints against the company.

The complaint by Airbnb, prepared by David Grandeau, the former head of the old state lobbying commission and obtained by the Daily News, calls on the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics or the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate ShareBetter’s activities.

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It alleges that ShareBetter failed to register as a lobbyist, disclose its source of funding, report lobbying expenses, or file bimonthly and semi-annual lobbying reports.

The coalition should have done those things, the complaint says, since it spent more than $5,000 annually to engage in lobbying activities like running anti-Airbnb ads, writing opinion editorials, organizing lobby days, and operating a website calling for grassroots action.

“Respondents are attempting to manipulate legislative outcomes in a way that benefits an undisclosed group of benefactors at the expense of residents of New York State. The public has a right to know who is funding these actions,” the complaint says.

Grandeau cites an opinion issued by the lobbying commission he used to head that coalitions made up of unincorporated associations must register with the state if they engage in activities under the purview of the lobbying act. They also must identify responsible parties, like a president, treasurer or named agent.

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If ShareBetter didn’t register and disclose its activities, it should have been up to the individual groups that make up the coalition to do it themselves, Grandeau wrote.

A source close to ShareBetter said the three entities that provide the bulk of the funding, including the city hotel association and the hotel and motel workers union, registered as lobbyists and disclosed their activities.

Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan, a member of ShareBetter who has pushed anti-Airbnb legislation, said, “we’re confident that all of ShareBetter’s reporting requirements have been handled properly.

“It’s not surprising that Airbnb, a company that put $10 million into the biggest Super PAC in the state to hide their aiding and abetting of the breaking of affordable housing laws, doesn’t understand the state’s campaign compliance laws,” Rosenthal said.

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Meanwhile, Tom Cayler, the illegal hotel committee leader for the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, is set to file his own complaints with the state ethics commission and the New York City clerk’s office on Monday charging three people failed to register as Airbnb lobbyists and that there were different omissions in the reporting of lobbying activities by the company at both the state and city levels.

A copy of the complaints were not provided Sunday.

“We look forward to a long and comprehensive examination of Airbnb’s lack of disclosure about the millions they spent on political races and lobbying efforts,” Rosenthal said.

Airbnb spokesman Peter Schottenfels shot back that “any complaint by hotel-funded ShareBetter is like Al Capone accusing Elliot Ness of being a mobster.”

He accused ShareBetter of only filing its complaint after being tipped off late last week that Airbnb was preparing its own call for an investigation.

“Somehow the consultants who run this front group were tipped off about an impending ethics complaint regarding their failure to properly disclose lobbying activities, and their response is to make up a retaliatory, sham claim,” Schottenfels said.

“It sadly makes a mockery of a watchdog whose mission is to guard against the shady behavior that the hotel industry relies on to pass laws that target middle class New Yorkers.”

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