Essential RPAC, for those who need to know (Read: YOU)

As tempted as I am to fire off a snappy (read: snippy) response to some of the misunderstandings contained in Frank LLosa’s recent post about RPAC, I’m reminded of Seth Godin’s admonition that miscommunication is almost always the fault of the communicator, not the recipient. So if Frank has his facts wrong about something VAR does…especially something so essential to his business as RPAC…it’s likely VAR’s fault for not communicating more thoroughly or frequently or clearly.

So, herewith, a primer on RPAC for them what want or need to know:

1. RPAC is the largest PAC in America. RPAC of Virginia is the biggest business PAC in Virginia. Big deal? Heck, yeah. When it comes to the funding of a Political Action Committee, size matters…at least it does to candidates and elected officials. The better funded your PAC, the more likely elected officials are to think twice before doing something that would negatively impact your real estate business, or more importantly your customers and clients. It’s the “carry a big stick” theory of politics, and it’s effective. That’s why we beg and plead with you to invest every year. Because it’s the only protection you’ve got against bad law and regulation. Sure, you can give individually to whomever you wish…but where’s the big stick? (And yes, that makes it all the more imperative that we consider and develop carefully our policy positions so that they’re about what’s good for Virginia, good for our communities, good for consumers…and not solely self serving).

2. RPAC of Virginia gives fairly evenly to Democrats and Republicans. National RPAC does, too. We’re not affiliated with a political party. We represent candidates who support private property rights and fair land use policies and housing opportunity and free enterprise. In the recent General Assembly election cycle here in Virginia, we supported more Republicans than Democrats…which makes sense, considering the Republicans were the party controlling both houses of the General Assembly at the time. With the Dems now in control in the Senate, I suspect it’ll be different next time around.

3. RPAC is governed by about 20 trustees who are REALTORS just like (most of) you. They run real estate businesses AND they’re active in state and local politics. So when funding decisions are made, do remember that they’re made by folks who do what you do for a living and understand the issues confronting your profession.

4. This is a biggy: RPAC funds can only be used for CANDIDATES. We’re prohibited by law from using it to lobby; we’re prohibited from using it in issues campaigns (say, to support or oppose a grantors tax increase). Lobbying and issues campaigns are funded with your dues dollars, not with RPAC funds. You invest in RPAC so that your association has funds to help elect candidates who support what’s best for your business and for homeownership in Virginia. That’s pretty much all that your RPAC money is used for. The vast majority of RPAC overhead costs — staff, recognition, brochures, etc — are paid for from your VAR dues dollars, not from the PAC.

5. Before the RPAC Trustees decide to support/endorse a candidate (which usually means we give them money or in-kind campaign support, but not always), we interview the candidates to determine which is best for your interests. We don’t pay attention to a candidate’s stand on social issues; instead, we ONLY look at his or her position on real estate issues. We almost always interview in races for an open seat. In races where an incumbent who has supported your issues is running, we’re less likely to interview; after all, such a candidate has a track record, and we can tell if he’s been for us or against us. On the other hand when an incumbent hasn’t supported us, we either stay out of the race, or we look for someone to challenge him/her in the election. Likewise, most local associations interview candidates before they make endorsements in local races.

6. Which reminds me: Of every dollar you invest in RPAC, 30 cents goes to NAR for use in federal (Congress and US Senate) races. The remaining 70 cents is used in Virginia for statewide and General Assembly races AND in local races (and the local portion is controlled by your local association, but their rules and process for candidate contributions are nearly identical to VAR’s)

7. There are serious limits to what National RPAC can give to Federal candidates (Congress and US Senate). I’ll spare you the gory details, but it totals $15,000 per candidate per election cycle. National RPAC does NOT get involved in the presidential race. In Virginia, however, there are no limits. Still, I think you’ll find the size of our contributions to be in line with those of other groups. There’s a limit, of course, to what the market will bear, and any contribution that seems larger than the market will put us in every newspaper in the state, and…let’s just say the coverage wont be flattering. You can find a record of all political contributions in Virginia at

8. Despite the conclusion one might draw from the National Home Builders Association’s recent decision to cease all funding of Congressional candidates until Congress does what the builders want, it’s not about buying votes. Sometimes I wish it was that easy, but I’m glad it’s not. What it’s about is electing thoughtful officials who’ll at least listen when we come to them with good, sound policy proposals. It’s an open door. But if we’re not fighting to elect that kind of candidate, there are plenty of other groups out there with different ideas from you who’ll fill the void with their brand of candidate, and you’ll be out in the cold. If we’re not engaged in political advocacy, we can’t effectively represent you. That’s what RPAC is for.

That’s enough for now. Three last things:

> You’ll find a really cool member-produced video about RPAC on VAR’s website. It’s short, it’s current, and it’s worth your time.

> Here’s a list of 2007 VAR legislative successes, powered by VAR’s first rate lobbying team and your support, but undergirded by the “big stick” that is RPAC. Do note how many of the issues we’re invlved in aren’t only about us, about REALTORS®; rather, they’re about better communities and moving Virginia forward.

> Lastly…I do apologize for being so pedantic. I understand that politics can be an unpleasant and divisive business. But to those REALTORS® who would recoil from it and refer to RPAC as something nasty and say that politics is distasteful and REALTORS should have no part of it, I say this: When they declare that ditch on your investment property a wetland, and they put a tax on your commissions, and they decide to fund the bulk of transportation infrastructure on the backs of homebuyers and sellers, and implement all manner of regulation that negatively impacts your bottom line, you’re going to want to say “Where was RPAC?” And I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from replying, “Where were YOU?”

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7 Responses to Essential RPAC, for those who need to know (Read: YOU)

  1. I think most of us understand the premise of PACs. It’s good to read of the general distribution of contributions. The actual premise is why contribute at all?

    The RPAC message is inconsistent. Since RPAC only contributes to candidates and not elected officials what is their purpose other than being a layer of political bureaucracy to get at the real lobby? Why not contribute directly to the VAR and parse donations directly to issues?

    To answer the rhetorical questions in the last paragraph of your article, I have to ask another question: Where is RPAC? The video alludes to many, many legislative defeats but they only contribute to candidates.

    So, are they lobbyists or not? There cannot continue to be a mixed messages. Let’s call them what they are, change RPAC advertising to reflect precisely what they do, and then let Realtors decide whether or not they should contribute. Show me. Break down, by candidate who was ultimately elected into office, the real estate related votes that helped defeat issues that are important to Realtors. I’d also like to see the percentage of adminstrative overhead from contributions that feeds the machine.

  2. Scott Brunner says:

    Good points Dan, though given some of the comments on Frank’s post, I question whether most “get” PACs, particularly RPAC. I had tried to assert above that VAR lobbies, but that our strength and effectiveness are undergirded by RPAC. I don’t disagree that we (often) muddle that message. Will get you info on the % of overhead, etc., when I get to the office next week. Thanks for the perspective.

  3. Ben Martin says:

    Awesome feedback, Dan. To answer your question about why not contribute directly to the VAR and allow the organization to parse donations directly to issues… On the federal level, it’s illegal. Corporations cannot make political contributions. There are business advantages to collecting and paying money out of a PAC as well, such as favorable tax laws.

  4. Now THIS is a great post. This is the type of information that Realtors need in order to make informed decisions as to whether or not they wish to donate to RPAC.

    Dan’s point about mixing the message is a great one. If the PAC isn’t lobbying, then why claim the legislative victories? I mean, I understand WHY they do it, but I do think that it could be easily misinterpreted as to HOW they are achieving such victories.

    This discussion about RPAC is an important one for members and for RPAC. Perhaps a voice from someone within RPAC or someone within VAR who is an RPAC trustee would make a good voice for VARBuzz. . .

    Oh, and since we are talking about elections and nominations– remeber to vote early, vote often, and vote Zebra in the VARBuzz Blog Brawl. (This message approved by Zebra for Blog Brawl Champion 2008)


  5. Ben Martin says:

    In a convenient twist, social media is a lot like a PAC. Most people can’t draw a straight line between a blog and a business deal. But they’ll acknowledge that there is a connection. Similarly, you can’t draw a straight line between a PAC and a particular vote, but there is a connection.

    This is an oversimplification, but our political efforts are like a three-legged stool: For it to be effective we need: 1) REALTORS involved in the political process [i.e. be aware of issues, vote, communicate with their legislators, etc.] 2) Professional lobbyists to work on the inside and 3) A well-funded PAC to help the REALTOR message stand out in the crowd. If any of the three is weak, the stool falls over.

  6. Bryan Penman says:

    Scott, as a reluctant step into this conversation about RPAC – I would like to voice the concern that I think Frank stumbled into without realizing the connection. It has to do with Marketing and much like Seth’s Godin’s message I think we should try to advertise more about what RPAC is doing and how it functions. I know as a Gen Y who personally always asks why we do anything; RPAC has been something that I have had to search out / research by asking our RPAC trustee’s and see how essential RPAC is to our business. I know when I am faced with new members in our local association we tend to throw RPAC around like it is an “in” word and don’t take the time to explain what RPAC is and how vital it is to the success of our industry. I guess I am trying to just voice that I have seen how creative and amazing many of the other marketing plans VAR puts together for things and would like to see a more substantial RPAC explanation: not that I don’t love the musical Chicago…. I personally like the VAR Leadership Academy video and think that is a HUGE step in the right direction…

  7. Meredith Cox says:

    As the RPAC administrator at VAR, I whole-heartedly agree with Scott’s comments, but I also appreciate the replies to this and the previous RPAC-related post. Having been immersed in an RPAC world for the past 3+ years, it is hard for me to think of a way to communicate to an audience who may not have the history I’ve had with it. I think most of us agree that RPAC is worthwhile and necessary, but the next step is addressing why. Thank you for asking some specific questions that will help us know how to answer why it is so important. (That said, should you have further questions or comments, please email me––I would love to hear them). One last thing, we do offer a place to invest in RPAC online:

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