NAR the PAC: Three Questions

I’ve been having a twitter conversation (remember those?) with my good friend Mike Pennington, who is not only one of the guys behind RETSO, but is an active member of his local and state Association of REALTORS, about NAR and political power. I assume it’s because of either the Trialogues podcast in which we discussed the REALTOR Rally, or because of one of my posts on the subject.

Either way, Mike takes the view that the 3% participation rate at the REALTOR Rally is not the important thing. The important thing is that NAR is a Top PAC (Political Action Committee).

So I asked just how huge we’re talking about here. Mike graciously supplied the following:

NAR PAC in 2010 election cycle

I had seen that chart before, but hadn’t looked at it in a while, so I’m grateful to Mike for bringing it back to our attention.

I now have three questions for Mike, and for everyone else who is remotely interested in the issue of political power and the REALTOR Association.

Question One: What is the Actual Financial Power of Organized Real Estate?

I can probably find out if someone were paying me to do the research, but as a blogger, I’m not going to go look at state filing numbers to do a post.

We know that NAR is a top national PAC, but the full picture of organized real estate includes state and local Associations, which may have their own PAC’s. So the question is, if we totalled all of the political money at local, state, and Federal levels from REALTOR Associations, how much is that?

Perhaps Mike is correct, that NAR doesn’t need to worry about member engagement, because its real power is in money. But before we can worry about things like SuperPACs (the post-Citizens United advocacy organizations) and the other guys above NAR in the list (like the SEIU and, we should get a sense of how much all REALTOR Associations have to spend.

Nonetheless, once you do know what that total number is, you do have to ask whether that’s enough to compete in the new political finance environment where a single SuperPAC (such as American Crossroads, affiliated with Karl Rove and Haley Barbour) has $35 million in the bank, and a single person (such as Sheldon Adelson) could spend as much as NAR has raised to date.

Question Two: What Is The Correlation Between Membership and PAC Contributions?

Here’s the data for the past few election cycles:

Raised Spent To Candidates
2012 $10,438,204 $6,539,314 $1,756,790
2010 $14,836,253 $16,031,376 $3,791,296
2008 $16,550,035 $18,383,414 $4,020,900
2006 $13,477,358 $14,513,308 $3,752,005
2004 $10,074,018 $11,129,904 $3,787,083
2002 $6,381,453 $7,208,540 $3,648,526
2000 $4,918,605 $5,017,648 $3,423,441

We know that NAR had 1,357,732 members in 2006 (the peak); we know that in 2010, NAR had dropped to 1,066,658 members. But as we can see, PAC contributions actually rose from 2006 to 2010. 2012 is only a partial year, but at that rate, I figure the presidential election year will show a similar pattern as 2008, 2004, and 2000 when PAC contributions were significantly higher than during the non-presidential years.

But at a minimum, you do have the raise the question that maybe there is no connection between membership numbers and PAC numbers, because most of the “members” of NAR are not members at all in any real sense of the word. Only people like Mike, who does contribute to the PAC, is a real member.

Question Three: If You Love Somebody, and She Doesn’t Know You Exist, Is It Love?

The key question, perhaps, for Mike and others is from his tweet above, where he says NAR is the most important PAC whose focus is on protecting the interests of homeowners.

Do homeowners know that?

If they don’t know, then is that really advocacy?

If they do know, where is the evidence? Can I get a single letter from some random unaffiliated homeowner thanking NAR for standing up for the rights of homeowners? (Unaffiliated meaning, homeowner’s son isn’t the local Association President or some such thing.)

There is more than a faint whiff of delusion about such a position. It’s like saying Kate Beckinsale is my girlfriend, and we’re desperately in love, except for the small detail that she doesn’t know who I am or that I exist. (And if she did know, a restraining order is the more likely response than an invitation for dinner.)

If NAR the PAC is out there fighting for the rights of homeowners, can I get a list of non-REALTOR, non-affiliated homeowners who have written checks to the NAR PAC to make sure that their rights are protected? If no such list exists, because private homeowners haven’t the faintest clue about what NAR the PAC fights for, then can we at least agree that preferring to say that NAR fights for homeowners is little more than REALTOR self-affirmation?

How Do You Answers Those Questions?

Especially the third one?

Do you change what you prefer to say? Or do you change maybe what you do so that what you say becomes reality?

Because there’s a word for love without return of love: infatuation. Or as some might say, stalking.

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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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