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 http://vpap.org.
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?”