Airbnb: Hotel lobby gave $75K to Regalado campaigns

Tomás Regalado, the latest South Florida mayor to pick up the anti-Airbnb mantle, says his drive to crack down on short-term rentals in Miami neighborhoods is pushed by frustrated homeowners suddenly forced to live next to party houses.

But the nation’s leading home-share platform wonders if the Miami mayor’s campaign against its business isn’t driven by previous campaigns of a different sort.

In an open letter sent Monday to Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, the company questioned whether Regalado’s stance is related to the thousands of dollars the hotel lobby has donated to the mayor’s 2013 campaign account and an electioneering committee he shares with his daughter. The letter, sent by Airbnb policy director Tom Martinelli on behalf of hosts in the two cities, followed a morning press conference in which the two mayors highlighted problems they said Airbnb rentals cause in residential neighborhoods.

Have the nearly $75,000 in campaign contributions you’ve accepted from the national and local hotel lobby since 2013 motivated your anti-home sharing stance? Open letter from Airbnb to Tomás Regalado

“Have the nearly $75,000 in campaign contributions you’ve accepted from the national and local hotel lobby since 2013 motivated your anti-home sharing stance?” the letter asked.

The Miami Herald verified all but $2,650 of the $76,750 in contributions documented by Airbnb by checking Regalado’s campaign filings with the city of Miami and the Florida Division of Elections. Most were for $1,000 or less, and made to Regalado’s official campaign account when he ran for re-election in 2013.

Larger donations to the Serving Miamians electioneering committee the mayor shares with Raquel Regalado include $25,000 from the del Rey family’s Executive Fantasy Hotel in Puerto Rico, and $15,000 from Optimum USA Brickell 2, an LLC that housed illegal, oversized Raquel Regalado billboards at its Starlite Motel during her run last year for county mayor.

Genting subsidiary Bayfront 2011 Development, a Hallandale hotel chain linked to Turnberry Associates, and hospitality union Unite Here! Local 355 each donated $5,000.

“We certainly believe that the very powerful and very influential hotel lobby, both national and local, has played a role in the stance he is taking against the home-sharing community in the city of Miami,” said Benjamin Breit, an Airbnb spokesman.

Reached Tuesday, Regalado, who will step down as mayor in November due to term limits, called the assertion “absurd.”

“To say I’m motivated — for what? I’m not running [again for political office],” he said. “I’m just doing the work of the residents, who don’t have lobbyists.”

For context, the contributions highlighted by Airbnb occurred over four years and span three campaigns: one by the mayor and two by Raquel Regalado, who ran for county mayor last year and briefly raised money for an unopposed school board campaign in 2014.

The $75,000 represents less than 5 percent of the $1.64 million raised during that time by Regalado’s campaign account and electioneering committee. The donations also include $7,000 from Flagstone Island Gardens, which has talked for more than a decade about building a resort on Watson Island but has yet to open a single room.

“They’re desperate,” said Regalado. “They’re seeing the cracks in their bubble and trying to create something that doesn’t exist.”

Airbnb recently nailed down a tax agreement with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez that will need to be approved by county commissioners. But home-sharing is still imperiled or unwelcome in Miami Beach and Miami, the hub of the county’s tourism industry.

Regalado is bringing a measure Thursday before the Miami City Commission that would direct the city’s code compliance office to enforce a zoning opinion declaring short-term rentals illegal in residential neighborhoods. He says he intends to push a new law that would create further restrictions on short-term rentals