After initially not committing to no longer donating money to the campaigns of lawmakers who voted against certification of Joe Biden’s win for the presidency after an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the National Association of Realtors is suspending all federal political donations amid calls from some members for changes to its political action committee.
The Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) makes direct contributions to national, state and local political candidates with the voluntary contributions of its members. The RPAC Board of Trustees makes decisions on funding for federal candidates.
“Following last Tuesday’s meeting of the RPAC Board of Trustees, our association is temporarily pausing federal political disbursements,” NAR spokesperson Wes Shaw told Inman in an emailed statement. “NAR will continue to closely monitor events in Washington in the days and weeks ahead in order to ensure our political participation most closely represents the will of our Realtor members and the best interests of American real estate.
“Federal RPAC candidate contribution decisions are made working with state associations and state trustees. RPAC is proud to be the largest and most bipartisan political action committee operated on behalf of a trade association in the United States. In fact, about 51% of our involvement in 2020 federal races came on behalf of Democrats, while 49% was in support of Republicans.”
NAR has long maintained that RPAC hasn’t favored Democrats or Republicans, but rather backs candidates who support the “Realtor Party” — which in practice means incumbent Democrats and Republicans with a track record of standing behind government subsidies for homeownership and other real estate-friendly policies.
According to NAR’s “Realtor Party” website, RPAC supports candidates of any party who understand and champion real estate issues, and expenditures are based on politicians’ support of real estate issues.
But over the years, some members have also expressed dissatisfaction with this stance at the expense of all other issues. RPAC is gearing up to be a battleground as some members question RPAC funds going to lawmakers who nonetheless insisted on voting against certification after the Capitol siege. Dozens of corporations, including Zillow and Airbnb, have announced they would either withhold donations from those lawmakers or, like NAR, freeze their federal political contributions entirely.
There is some precedent for NAR changing its campaign contribution policies based on a political stance. In 2018, NAR dropped former Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Orange County, California, from its President’s Circle donation program over his anti-LGBTQ stances.
RPAC handed out more than $1.2 million in the 2020 election cycle — the third most of any PAC — to members of the so-called “sedition caucus” — the 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to Electoral College results in the presidential election, thereby supporting baseless and false claims of widespread voter fraud, according to campaign contribution watchdog the Center For Responsible Politics.
“So many of us have historically been RPAC supporters, and this year I will enter the RPAC Hall of Fame,” wrote Budge Huskey, CEO of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, in a comment on a blog post about a Realtor that participated in the riot.
Huskey’s comment continued, “It can longer be business as usual. I have called upon NAR leadership to reject the future endorsement or financial support from RPAC of any member of the House or Senate who voted not to certify the outcome of a free and fair election, many of whom continue to declare the big lie for the purpose of personal gain in stature or fund raising.
“These are the enablers who have contributed to our situation where DC must become a Green Zone and state capitals have to be surrounded by national guard. They will not be rewarded with my dollars nor of any other member of NAR. I will be watching, and the outcome will determine whether my recent major sponsor donation will prove my last.”
In a Facebook thread about an RPAC conference to be held in person in April, Coral Gundlach, a Realtor at Compass, said NAR’s contributions to the anti-certification lawmakers “sicken[ed]” her and she would “never ever give another penny to RPAC. Seriously regret ever giving it in the past and I caution my Realtor friends to stop showing off their heavy donor status and gifts they’ve gotten because of it.”
She added, “RPAC constantly gives to lawmakers whom I believe, are trying to destroy the country. The laser focus only on property rights isn’t enough any more. They gave money to many of the insurrectionist enablers currently in congress. I just can’t.”
Gundlach recognized the need to protect the interests of the real estate industry. “But strongly encouraging us to donate heavily and ignore the policies and votes of these candidates on other issues is where I draw a hard line. I don’t know what the solution is yet, but think they need to change so much of their messaging and tactics to get donations,” she wrote.
In the same thread, Rosemary Phinney Buerger, an office manager at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Koehler Realty, said NAR should look at what a person supports beyond private property rights. “Should we not examine fair housing and economic growth for all?”
Erik Hinshaw, a broker and Realtor at the brokerage Hawai’i Life, suggested NAR’s stance put the trade group “[a]lways on the wrong side of history. Backed redlining. Backed Dan White, the murderer of Harvey Milk. Etc. No lessons learned.”
Andrea Geller, broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago, said she used to be a major donor and raised money and acted as local PAC trustee for many years, but “I just can’t do it anymore.”
“They really need to go beyond what’s good for the Realtors,” Geller told Inman via email. “The candidates/legislators need to be vetted on how their platforms and votes … affect the country as a whole, states and communities. If we can’t build and maintain economically and socially strong and stable communities then what’s ‘good for Realtors’ doesn’t really matter.”
In the Facebook thread, Geller said NAR and local and state Realtor associations should open up discussions through surveys and focus groups “to figure out why those of us that are well educated about RPAC believe the decision-making process is antiquated and has been for a while, to determine the changes that need to be made to re-engage us, as well as engage those who have always followed where the $$ go and have never given because of it.”
In a separate Facebook post, Leslie Ebersole, a broker at eXp Realty, said it made no sense to her that PACs, “especially those of large organizations or associations, should funnel equal amounts of money to candidates in both parties, often in the same race. ‘We need to pay for access no matter who wins’ is nothing more than political pandering,” she wrote.
She added, “I feel like it’s a good time to consider why we do some of the things we do. It’s never too late to change direction and improve.”
Inman asked NAR for comment on the viewpoints of these members as well as how long it is pausing federal political disbursements, why it is pausing the disbursements, the criteria NAR will use to decide when to re-start disbursements and to whom, the specific steps NAR will take to ensure its political participation represents the will of its members and the best interests of American real estate and why it is important to NAR that it has the most bipartisan PAC among trade associations. NAR declined to comment.