My REALTOR® Party Initiative: Succeeding on Your Behalf

Industry veteran has members' struggles in mind as he works with associations to protect real estate.

October 1, 2011

Almost two  years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee that corporations have the same political speech rights as individuals, opening the door to unlimited spending by corporations and other entities in political campaigns. Shortly after that decision, NAR 2010 President Vicki Cox Golder appointed a presidential advisory group to look into the implications of that decision. As a result of the work of that PAG, the NAR Board of Directors in May funded a new initiative that has since been dubbed “My REALTOR® Party.”

The initiative builds on NAR’s popular REALTOR® Party moniker, which emphasizes the bipartisan nature of REALTORS®’ policy agenda, and is funded through a dedicated $40 dues increase. It responds directly to the Citizens United ruling by earmarking a portion of the funds for independent expenditures, which are the kinds of corporate-funded political activities ruled on by the Supreme Court. The initiative also increases resources in NAR’s campaign services, issue advocacy, and community involvement programs—about 60 programs in all—which state and local associations can tap to help them fight transfer fees, taxes on commissions, and other proposed statutes and ordinances that could hurt real estate. It provides a path to leadership in the kinds of community issues that help shape the state and local public policy environment.

To help ensure the most efficient match between the new and expanded resources and state and local associations, NAR turned to a 36-year veteran association executive Bill Malkasian of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association. Malkasian comes on board Oct. 18 as NAR vice president of political strategic initiatives. Here he discusses his role at NAR and his views on what the initiative means to REALTORS®.

The Board of Directors’ decision to fund the My REALTOR® Party Initiative with a $40 dues increase didn’t come without concern from members, who’ve been struggling through several rough years. What difference will members see for their extra $40?

Malkasian: The average member who pays dues but doesn’t get involved in the association won’t necessarily see all the changes. If it’s a constitutional amendment in your state to eliminate private transfer fees, all the members would see that and they’d really like it. But much of what’s happening is below the surface: an organizational change in which NAR helps REALTORS® keep food on their table by helping their state and local associations operate effectively in the public policy arena.

At the heart of this organizational change are three programs: campaign services, issues advocacy, and independent expenditures. Through campaign services, NAR provides expert services and other resources to help state and local associations support candidates who support real estate. Issues advocacy is for states and local associations that want to support or defeat issues like private transfer fees or property tax increases. Both of these programs have been around a while, but they’re beefed up.

The third program, independent expenditures, is the only new component. This is the piece that stems from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which paved the way for associations to support or oppose state or local candidates as they see fit. The expenditures have to be made without the knowledge or cooperation of the campaigns, though. Prior to the court decision, independent expenditures weren’t an option in many states, but now they are. So NAR is making that money available to state and local associations.

What’s your role?

Malkasian: I’m expected to work with the states and local associations to ensure the new resources are used efficiently.

I’ll go into a state and say, “What’s best for your members?” I’ll bring in local AEs, government affairs directors, REALTOR® leaders, the state AE. As the facilitator, I’ll ask, “What kind of strategic plan makes sense? And by the way, I have some NAR programs that you might decide make sense for you, and this local association has this innovative program that might work for you. Then we need to determine, how do we combine all these into one program? And how do we make the process transparent, so the right hand knows what the left is doing?”

As an example, in Wisconsin, we have a state political action committee along with local PACs in Milwaukee, in Madison, and in the northeast part of the state. And we cooperate to give the maximum support allowed by our state law. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s a program to identify potential voters or to get voters to go to the polls. We’ll coordinate to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts and we’re not wasting members’ money.

One of the aspects of this campaign that we’ve been hearing a lot about is the consumer push. NAR says it’s going to mobilize property owners. Can you talk about the success of a similar effort in Wisconsin?

Malkasian: We created a 501(c)(4) issues advocacy organization five or six years ago called the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance to advocate on behalf of property owners, and right now $70 of our state dues goes into it. We wanted to become the voice of the 2.5 million home owners in the state along with our 12,000 real estate professionals. A good example is what we did on a proposed change in the way the state regulates piers. We have more than 10,000 lakes in the state, so piers are a big issue. Using our 501(c)(4), we asked home owners, “Are you aware that the Department of Natural Resources is potentially going to take your pier out of the water?” We got thousands of people to go to the hearings. The agency came to us and said, “OK, we’ll change the proposal.” And we got the credit for it. Home owners were writing and calling and e-mailing REALTORS®, saying, “Thank you for alerting us to this. We would have never known what was going on without you.” It wasn’t the bad-guy, good-guy scenario you see so often in politics. It was a simple education matter.

What are the next steps for the My REALTOR® Party initiative?

Malkasian: The Web site for the initiative, accessible through the REALTOR® Action Center, was operational Aug. 30. On that site, state and local AEs click into this series of boxes. One box says to the effect, “I know what I want”; one says basically “I’m thinking about it,” and the other says “I don’t know what I want.” You go to a subscreen and a menu with some 60 programs opens up; you click on the ones you think you want an NAR team member to work on with your state or local association to make sure you have the services you need.

What you need will depend, frankly, on the level of advocacy that already exists in your state. In Wisconsin, I love the issues money from NAR and the software from the REALTORS® Political Action Committee, but I don’t need advocacy consultants, because there are eight GADs in our state, and we have a crack government affairs staff and legal team at our state association. Other states will have different needs. Our goal is to provide the resources so state and local associations can succeed in the advocacy arena on their members’ behalf. 


 

Learn more about the My REALTOR® Party initiative at REALTORActionCenter.com.
 


Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.

Related