The National Association of Realtors is a major player in nearly a dozen tight races in the 2010 elections, backing incumbents in both parties who hold influential committee assignments rather than seeking to upset the status quo.
Historically, NAR’s campaign spending tends to favor the party in power. Although Democrats are widely expected to lose seats in the House and Senate on election day, NAR’s 2010 election spending is weighted in favor of Democrats.
While the group continues to support Republican allies through its Realtor Political Action Committee (RPAC), it hasn’t thrown its weight behind Tea Party candidates.
In fact, where RPAC can exert the most weight — through independent expenditures — it’s supporting incumbents in several races who face challenges from candidates with Tea Party support.
"The principle guiding RPAC expenditures on candidates is that of supporting those candidates who supported us on real estate issues in the past, regardless of party affiliation," said NAR spokesman Lucien Salvant.
Independent expenditures are guided by the same principle.
"The bottom line consideration is who’s best for the ‘Realtor Party,’ " not whether a candidate is affiliated with Democrats, Republicans, or another party, Salvant said.
NAR has spent more than $11 million in the 2010 election cycle, according to campaign spending records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and published Friday on the group’s website, OpenSecrets.org.
Most of that money — more than $6 million — has been in the form of independent expenditures for advertising, consulting and other assistance on behalf of candidates.
In 11 races around the country, NAR has racked up independent expenditures exceeding $300,000 in each contest, in all cases backing incumbents the group has been able to count on for support in the past.
Democrats have been the greatest beneficiary of RPAC’s independent expenditures, with about 61 percent going to candidates affiliated with the party, and 39 percent to Republicans.
NAR is also a minor player in hundreds of other races, contributing $10,000 or less directly to the campaigns of more than 400 House candidates and 60 Senate hopefuls.
So far, 58 percent of the nearly $2.7 million in contributions NAR has made directly to candidates’ campaigns has gone to Democrats, and 41 percent to Republicans.
By comparison, in the 2006 midterm election NAR spent $8.8 million, with 74 percent of RPAC’s $3.7 million in independent expenditures going to Republicans and 26 percent to Demorats. Of the $3.75 million RPAC shoveled into federal candidates’ campaign chests, 51 percent went to Republicans and 49 percent to Democrats.
By law, independent expenditures can’t be made in coordination with a candidate’s campaign. But they can be a deciding factor in close elections, as ads funded by outside spending flood the airwaves in an attempt to sway undecided voters.
OpenSecrets.org ranks NAR’s RPAC 16th in independent expenditures by groups in the 2010 election cycle.
With $6.07 million in independent expenditures, RPAC is considerably smaller than players like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($34.4 million); American Crossroads, a conservative group founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove ($21 million); and the Service Employees International Union ($15.6 million).
But RPAC’s independent expenditures put it in the same league as the National Rifle Association ($7.4 million), and ahead of some household names like the National Education Association ($3.2 million) and the AFL-CIO ($2.9 million).
NAR backs incumbents
NAR and other groups seeking to influence events in Washington, D.C., often favor the party in power because that party’s candidates control the congressional committees where legislation is amended or killed.
Through RPAC, NAR has made $1.2 million in independent expenditures on behalf of Pennsylvania Democrat Paul Kanjorski, paying for TV ads, consulting and other assistance. RPAC has also contributed $9,000 directly to Kanjorski’s bid for a 14th term in Congress.
Kanjorksi, the second most senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., boasts on his website that his efforts "to promote homeownership have earned him numerous awards."
The Financial Services Committee deals with housing, banking, capital markets and other issues critical to Realtors, and NAR has characterized Kanjorski as "a key ally" for his stance on issues of importance to the group over the years, such as keeping national banks out of the real estate brokerage and property management business.
Kanjorski, who’s also the fourth-ranking Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is in a close race with Republican Lou Barletta, who nearly unseated him in 2008.
No other group has invested more in this race, in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District. RPAC has outspent both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($683,000) and the National Republican Congressional Committee ($902,000) there, according to OpenSecrets.org.
The next biggest beneficiary of RPAC’s independent expenditures is Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat who won the seat of former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in a 2008 special election following Hastert’s resignation.
Like Kanjorski, Foster serves on the House Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform committee. Foster lacks Kanjorski’s seniority, and is in a tight race with Republican state Sen. Randy Hultgren, who with Tea Party support defeated Hastert’s son Ethan in the primary.
RPAC has backed Foster with $797,000 in independent expenditures, and contributed $10,000 directly to his campaign.
In Southern California, incumbent Republican Ken Calvert is seeking a 10th term in the House, facing a rematch against Democrat Bill Hedrick, whom he narrowly defeated in 2008. This time around, Calvert has a large fundraising advantage over Hedrick and a comfortable lead in the polls.
Calvert is another longtime NAR ally, and sits on the House Appropriations Committee. RPAC has made $606,000 in independent expenditures on his behalf in the 2010 election cycle — more than RPAC has made for any other Republican candidate. RPAC has also contributed $10,000 to his campaign.
Another incumbent Republican getting big support from Realtors is three-term Rep. Dave Reichert, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee tackles several issues important to Realtors, including tax policy, health care, and trade.
Reichert, whose Eighth Congressional District east of Seattle is home to many Microsoft employees, is in a close race with Democrat Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft corporate vice president.
NAR’s RPAC has made $576,000 in independent expenditures on Reichert’s behalf, and kicked in $5,000 to his campaign.
In New Jersey, NAR is backing the incumbent Democrat in one of the most heated House races in the nation. John Adler, a freshman whose committee assignments include the House Financial Services Committee, is facing off against former National Football League lineman Jon Runyan.
Runyan, who retired from football in 2010, has never held politcal office but is running neck-and-neck with Adler in the polls, on a promise that he will "put an end to politics as usual."
Adler broke with his party in voting against the health care bill, and supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. He has drawn the ire of the New Jersey Tea Party over a third-party candidate, Peter DeStefano.
The New Jersey Tea Party claims DeStefano was drafted into the race by Adler’s campaign manager to draw votes from Runyan, which Adler’s campaign has denied.
Adler has benefited from $574,000 in independent expenditures from RPAC on his behalf, and $10,000 in campaign contributions.
Through its independent expenditures, RPAC has also supported two other incumbents facing challenges from candidates with Tea Party support: U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Texas Rep. Chet Edward, D-Texas.
Donnelly, a centrist "Blue Dog" Democrat who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, is in a tight race with Republican state Sen. Jackie Walorksi, who’s been gaining in polls.
Walorski, who has an endorsement by Sarah Palin and support from local Tea Party groups, has promised to work to repeal the health care bill.
NAR’s RPAC has made $331,658 in independent expenditures on Donnelly’s behalf, and contributed $6,000 directly to his campaign.
In Texas’ 17th Congressional District, NAR is supporting incumbent Democrat Chet Edwards in a race against Republican Bill Flores, who has been endorsed by the Texas Patriots Tea Party.
NAR has made $3,408 in independent expenditures on Edwards’ behalf, and $10,000 to his campaign. Edwards, who worked in commercial real estate in the 1980s, has served in Congress for nearly 20 years but is trailing in recent polls.
Other House incumbents NAR is supporting with large independent expenditures through RPAC include Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa., $475,000), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo., $430,000), Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio, $324,000), and Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif., $321,000).
Loyal to allies
While NAR has directed most of its big spending at closely contested races, it’s also backing dependable allies who are in little danger of losing their seats, like Calvert.
In the Senate, polls show that Georgia Republican and longtime NAR ally Sen. Johnny Isakson is also likely cruise to victory over Democrat Michael Thurmond, the state’s labor commissioner. RPAC has nevertheless made $377,000 in independent expenditures on Isakson’s behalf, and contributed $3,000 to his re-election campaign.
Isakson, a former real estate broker who last year led the charge to extend the federal homebuyer tax credit, serves on six Senate committees with jurisdiction over commerce, health and small business issues.
Reps. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, and Judy Biggert, R-Ill. — who went to bat for NAR in 2008 in an unsuccessful attempt to block proposed changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) — have each received $10,000 from RPAC in this election cycle, although neither is facing a serious challenge at the polls.
NAR has also chosen to play only a limited role in some of Tuesday’s most controversial elections.
In Nevada, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle dispatched the Republican Party favorite in the primary, and is threatening to end Democratic majority leader Harry Reid’s 24-year career in the Senate.
RPAC has contributed $8,000 to Reid’s campaign — a drop in the bucket in a race where each candidate is on track to spend more than $20 million.
In Delaware, support from the Tea Party Express helped Christine O’Donnell defeat nine-term Republican Congressman Michael Castle in the Senate primary election. Castle’s campaign got $10,000 from RPAC.
O’Donnell hasn’t received any funding from RPAC, but neither has her Democratic opponent, Christopher Coons.
In Alaska’s Senate Race, attorney Joe Miller also counted on support from the Tea Party Express to defeat incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the primary election. Murkowski is still in the race as an independent, and RPAC has provided $4,000 for her campaign.
Whether they belong to a union or a professional association like NAR, members of any group that spends a share of their dues and/or fees in political campaigns will grouse when that money goes to candidates they wouldn’t support themselves. Salvant said NAR does not track its members’ political party affiliations.
One way to see how closely NAR’s political contributions track with members’ beliefs is to comb through individual donations to candidates that are large enough to be itemized — $200 or more — and see how many contributors identify themselves as Realtors.
Federal Election Commission records show that in Nevada’s Senate race, seven Realtors — one residing in Nevada — chipped in a total of $10,950 to Reid’s re-election campaign from Jan. 1 2009 through Oct. 13, 2010. Four Realtors, including three who live out of state, contributed $200 or more to Angle’s campaign during the same period, for a total of $1,250, as an example.
In Delaware, O’Donnell landed $4,800 in contributions from six individuals identifying themselves as Realtors. Only one lived in the state. Castle got $9,050 from 15 Realtors, all but one of whom were Delaware residents. Democrat Coons landed $1,325 in contributions from three Realtors, one from out of state.
The following is a list of National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) Independent Expenditures, Communication Costs and Coordinated Expenses for the 2010 election cycle, as of Nov. 1, 2010, according to Center for Responsive Politics data:
- Total: $6,024,765
- Total for Democrats: $3,658,416
- Total for Republicans: $2,366,349
- Grand total spent by RPAC so far in 2010 election cycle, including independent expenditures and other expenditures, contributions: $11,218,449
Independent Expenditures by RPAC in Federal Elections
|Kanjorski, Paul E.||House||$1,202,164|
|Adler, John H.||House||$573,729|
|Perlmutter, Edwin G.||House||$429,908|
|Tiberi, Patrick J.||House||$323,756|
|Thompson, Michael Ray||House||$3,700|
Source: Center for Responsive Politics. Data for 2010 election cycle, as of Nov. 1, 2010.