Remember the days when it was thought a bit unseemly to brag about spending money to influence the political process? Apparently in today's world it is considered a mark of distinction to lobby with big bucks. Last week the National Association of Realtors released the news that RPAC, its political action committee, was the number one contributor to federal candidates in the most recent election cycle.
RPAC announcement included a list of 64 of what it described as the "most
competitive" races for seats in the House of Representatives and 16 contests
for the Senate in which it had spent four million dollars in direct contributions
to individual candidates. The level of support provided varied. Eleven candidates,
eight for the House, three for the Senate, received no assistance as RPAC declared
its neutrality in those races. 33 individual campaigns received only direct
cash contributions, but in 36 other races the funding was augmented by direct
mailings sent to individual Realtors urging them to vote for RPAC supported
In five races the Realtors funded advertising to the public through what is known under election funding rules as I.E., or Independent Expenditures. There was no dollar amount attached to these I.E. projects but when Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Realtor, ran for the Senate in 2004 NAR-funded television spots ran constantly on local stations during both the primary and general election campaigns. The ads were slickly produced and placed in prime time slots. It would be very interesting to know what such an I.E. campaign costs but it is clear that all of the recipients of this help were incumbents (three Republicans and two Democrats) and only one of the races - the Missouri Senate contest between Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill - was in any way high profile. Talent was the candidate supported by RPAC.
Of the eight Senate seats that were considered extremely competitive by both political parties and the media, (and you must know them by heart) RPAC committed to a candidate in all but one - the Tennessee race between Corker and Ford. In each case except the open Maryland seat in which they supported the Democrat Cardin, RPAC threw its support to the incumbent Republican - not money particularly well spent as only Cardin was victorious.
In all races RPAC supported Republican candidates by a margin of 46 to 8 in House races and 9 to 3 in the Senate (Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont who generally caucuses with the Democrats could be considered a fourth.) Those Democrats who did earn the support of the PAC tended to be running for open seats. Support also overwhelmingly went to incumbents.
On its website RPAC publishes a state-by-state list of all candidates it supports or perhaps "backs" would be a better word. Those who are not receiving financial help tend to be a more non-partisan group but, at a glance, do appear to be primarily incumbents.
NAR strove to put the best face on the election outcome in which the candidates it supported financially did not fare well. "Some NAR supporters in the House and Senate lost their re-election bids Tuesday," the Realtor.org sit said, "but REALTORS are confident of moving forward on many of their top national legislative issues in the new Washington political environment, thanks to the wide appear of their issues."
NAR's chief lobbyist Jerry Giovaniello said, "We are very well placed to see progress on keeping banks out of real estate, working to get affordable health care coverage for small businesses, and ensuring adequate availability of insurance in disaster-prone areas."
Of course, NAR has been spreading its largesse for reasons other than promoting that short list. As we have reported, the Department of Justice has been investigating its role in state level legislation protecting full-service real estate agencies and the House Banking Committee, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Government Accountability Office have all been looking into alleged anti-competitive practices.
No doubt that it helps, under such circumstances, to have friends in high places. However, it appears that, in spite of the money it spent, NAR will have a lot fewer friends come January 2007.
In other NAR news, the organization will hold its 2006 Conference and Expo, labeled Nardigras, in New Orleans November 10 through 13. We will report on any interesting development.