More than 80 percent of Realtors are opposed to a $40 annual dues increase the National Association of Realtors is considering in order to boost political advocacy at the local, state and federal level, according to an online poll conducted by RealTown.com.
The poll of 3,041 RealTown subscribers found 82.3 percent were opposed to the proposed $40 dues increase, while 16.3 percent were in favor. A small number — 1.4 percent — were undecided.
An alternative proposal that would increase funding for political advocacy while leaving dues effectively unchanged was opposed by 72.2 percent of RealTown subscribers, and supported by 22.5 percent.
Another 5.3 percent did not express their opinion on the alternative proposal, which would eliminate a $35-a-year special assessment that funds NAR’s "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign and increase funding for political advocacy by implementing a $35-a-year dues increase.
On April 13, NAR’s Executive Committee endorsed the first option, which would leave the "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign in place and raise member dues by $40 a year to fund political activities. NAR’s board of directors will consider both options when it holds its midyear meeting this week in Washington, D.C.
NAR floated the idea of a dues increase in March, based on the recommendations of an advisory group that was created to study the implications of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions on independent campaign expenditures by corporations.
The decision in Citizens United v. FEC not only changed campaign financing at the national level, but overturned rulings in 23 states that only allowed "hard dollars" specifically allocated for political purposes to be used in political campaigns.
The high court’s decision has opened the floodgates for independent campaign expenditures, and NAR will have to step up its spending in order to maintain its voice, the advisory group concluded in a November report.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which collects and publishes campaign spending reports at OpenSecrets.org, NAR’s Political Action Committee spent $11.5 million in the 2010 election cycle, including $6 million in independent campaign expenditures.
State Realtor associations are also forces to be reckoned with. The California Association of Realtors’ political action committee, for example, spent $1.7 million on candidates and issues in 2010, according to the California Secretary of State.
NAR says about two-thirds of the $42 million in additional dues it will raise each year for political advocacy if the increase is approved will be spent at the state and local level.
In 2012, NAR proposes spending half of each member’s $40 annual dues increase at the state and local level and $7.90 on federal candidates and issues (the remaining $12.2 million would be carried over for future years).
The Realtor Party Political Survival Initiative, as NAR has dubbed the proposed dues increase, has been met with skepticism, and even derision, by some rank-and-file members.
NAR has held a webinar and created multimedia presentations to make its case with members. But among the more than 2,000 comments NAR has received to date on the proposal, supporters are vastly outnumbered by opponents.
"I have been an active Realtor for 20 years," reads one typical comment, submitted by Bob Sweeney. "I do not believe that any additional increase in dues is necessary. Rather, encourage the directors to find the money already in the existing budget.
"All of us have had to do this in our businesses and have had to rework our business to survive! I find it an outrage to ask us to dig deeper into our pockets to support lobbying efforts — maybe a little less wine and dine and more in the face of the politicians with the dollars you have!"
Many commenters say they’re happy to back candidates they support, but don’t think the views of the "Realtor Party" are aligned with their own.
"I’ll give $40 when I can be assured that it goes to the candidate/issue/party of my choosing," said one commenter who identified himself only as Jerry, adding that he didn’t want his money going toward a "left-wing" candidate.
"I agree with Jerry, except the opposite," said another commenter who identified herself as Carol. "I don’t my money going to some right-wing (politician) … We all want our political monies going to candidates and causes we choose. I pray the NAR leaders make a correct decision and do not pass these threatened dues."
One commenter who supported a dues increase, Julie Fedorovich, called NAR’s political activities "vital. There is nothing to think about. We either do this now or it will cost Americans more to battle the fallout after the fact."
While it’s understandable if Realtors don’t have time to volunteer on committees, she said, "at least take the time and part with a little money (to) support NAR in its quest to protect and promote Realtors and property ownership."
A recent poll by the blog AgentGenius.com found 80 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement that the potential dues increase was upsetting — either "very upsetting" (66 percent) or "mildly upsetting" (14 percent).
Another 12 percent responded that the dues increase was "critical for Realtor survival," while 6 percent said it was "critical for NAR survival," and 7 percent checked a box describing themselves as "indifferent" (respondents were allowed to check multiple responses).
Asked to pick one of five responses describing why they pay NAR dues, 32 percent said they did so "only because I have to in order to access the (multiple listing service)," and 29 percent said "only to access the MLS. I would prefer to only pay (dues to) my local board."
Another 18 percent of those responding to the AgentGenius poll said they paid dues "because it is important for homeowners and Realtors to have a political voice," and 11 percent said they paid dues "because I believe NAR represents me and the Realtor brand well."
Another 9 percent said they paid dues because they had to, but that they would continue to pay them even if they were voluntary.