VOL. 127 | NO. 54 | Monday, March 19, 2012
SPECIAL EMPHASIS: Residential Real Estate
RPAC Keeps Housing On Policymakers’ Minds
By JEFF IRELAND
Carol Lott understands that some people have misgivings about giving money to politicians, particularly when budgets are tight.
But Lott, a Crye-Leike Realtors broker and president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, has been in the business 26 years and knows how things work.
That’s why she’s spearheading a campaign by the MAAR chapter of the Realtors Political Action Committee to raise $105,000 by the end of September.
Lott said that RPAC, a nonpartisan PAC with 1.1 million members, is the largest PAC in the country.
“The bipartisan thing is a big deal,” Lott said. “We do have people that come to me and say, ‘We don’t want to give to RPAC because we don’t like the people you give to.’ Well, I may not like some of the people we give to, to be honest. But if they’re going to vote in a way that’s going to help our consumer maintain the value of his home, be it through interest reduction or loan limits, then I may not like everything they vote for, but if they’re going to vote to help the consumer, then we’re going to try and help their campaign out.”
“Our Realtors are somewhat unique in that we are the only voice for homeowners,” said Aubrie Kobernus, the director of governmental affairs for MAAR. “Because of that, our PAC is truly nonpartisan because homeownership is not a Republican issue. It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s not right wing or left wing. It’s something that everybody aspires to do.”
So far, Lott and her group have not been turned down very often.
The National Association of Realtors set MAAR’s 2012 “fair share” goal, which is based on the local group’s size, at $49,000. As of March 8, approximately $60,000 had already been raised, more than halfway to the $105,000 goal set by Lott.
“It’s unheard of,” Lott said. “No association does that.”
There are approximately 3,000 members of MAAR, and Lott said every one of them is being asked to contribute.
Only MAAR members are allowed to give money to RPAC, but not all of the members are Realtors. The PAC has received contributions from attorneys, bankers, home inspectors and others whose livelihood is directly affected by the real estate business, which has struggled for the past few years.
“With that money, we buy their ears and their voices,” Lott said, “because we want that to be our voice on Capitol Hill.”
The organization will travel to Washington on May 16. Nashville’s Day on the Hill is March 28 and the Tennessee Association of Realtors will meet March 26-28 in Cool Springs, Tenn., for a spring meeting.
In 2004, a record $104,000 was raised. Lott plans on exceeding that number, although MAAR’s membership was 5,500 then.
Garnering influence in Washington has become more difficult for many PACs since a United States Supreme Court decision in the January 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case.
In that case, the court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations.
“It’s more important than ever now,” Lott said. “We’re playing with the big boys.”
Rosemarie Fair, the owner of One Source Commercial in Memphis, was the Tennessee Association of Realtors president in 2006 and the MAAR president in 1998. Once again this year she’s involved in the money-raising process.
“We’re up against large corporations, and for the first time other PACs can get contributions from them,” Fair said. “When I was president, corporations were certainly limited.”
Approximately 30 percent of area Realtors historically contribute money to RPAC.
Contributors who give $1,000 or more are classified as major donors, and there are 35 to 40 of those far.
When trying to convince a company or individual to part with some money for the cause, Lott said potential contributors are asked to look at the big picture.
“No other group advocates for homeowners,” Lott said. “We sell these people houses and they get up and go to work every day, but no one’s really watching their back as to, ‘Is our mortgage interest reduction going to be taken away? Are my loan limits going to go up to make it harder for me to resell? Am I not going to be able to get flood insurance the next time I go to refinance my house?’ … That kind of thing is important.”