NAR bets heavily on 8 House races, backing winners in all but one

Inman News

Seven out of eight House candidates the National Association of Realtors threw its weight behind in a big way in the months leading up to Tuesday's election will be members of the 113th Congress.

The lone exception -- Rep. Judy Biggert -- is a longtime NAR ally whose defeat could represent a setback for the Realtor trade association. Biggert will be packing her bags after serving 14 years in the House of Representatives, having lost a hard-fought race after her congressional district was redrawn.

As a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, Biggert chairs its subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.

The Illinois Republican was one of NAR's biggest allies in a protracted fight over changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) that eventually resulted in the Department of Housing and Urban Development issuing new disclosure forms and rules intended to help consumers shop for mortgages and related services like title insurance.

In a separate matter, Biggert introduced legislation in 2011 to exclude home warranties from RESPA, after HUD ruled that RESPA's anti-kickback provisions could apply to marketing agreements that home warranty companies have used to market their services through real estate brokers.

The bill, HR 2446, passed the House in August but is stuck in the Senate Banking Committee. American Home Shield Corp. this year agreed to pay up to $26 million to settle allegations that the company paid illegal kickbacks to real estate brokers and agents to market the company's home warranties.

NAR's deputy chief lobbyist, Jamie Gregory, noted that Biggert also co-sponsored HR 4348, The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, with California Democrat Maxine Water. The bill, signed into law by President Obama in July, re-authorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through 2017.

Realtors lobbied long and hard to get lawmakers to extend the flood insurance program, saying private insurers were unprepared to cover 21,000 communities around the nation where flood insurance is required to obtain a federally-related mortgage.

"Obviously we were disappointed that Judy Biggert lost," Gregory said. "I would give her my highest compliment -- she was a true legislator. She was there to fix problems, and get things done."

While polling data showed redistricting posed a challenge to Biggert's chances of being reelected, "It was an easy decision for us to help her," Gregory said. "Realtors stick with their friends, and aren't afraid to jump into the tough races."

NAR has always maintained that its election strategy is to support candidates who support the "Realtor party" platform, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAR's Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) contributed more than $2.6 million directly to the campaign war chests of more than 400 candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2012 election cycle -- the vast majority of the House's members.

In the House, 55 percent of the money NAR's campaign contributions went to Republican candidates. In Senate races, Democrats had a slight edge, receiving 53 percent of the more than $245,000 in NAR campaign contributions.

While there are strict limits on "hard money" contributions to each candidate's campaign, there are no such limits on independent expenditures made on behalf of those candidates, and this is where NAR -- like all special interest groups involved in the political process -- can have the most influence. NAR increased its annual member dues for 2012 and 2013 by $40, with the goal of raising nearly $80 million in "soft money" for political advocacy at the local, state and federal level.

Records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that NAR made at least $4 million in independent expenditures on behalf of just eight House candidates -- five Republicans and three Democrats.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAR made $537,500 in independent expenditures on Biggert's behalf in the 2012 elections. But Illinois' newly drawn 11th Congressional District will be represented by Democrat Bill Foster, Biggert conceded on election night, when partial returns showed Foster with 56 percent of the vote and Biggert with 44 percent.

Independent expenditures by the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC)

Candidate

Party, state

Total

Outcome

Miller, Gary

R-Calif.

$1,394,225

Won

Sherman, Brad

D-Calif.

$560,200

Won

Biggert, Judy

R-Ill.

$537,200

Lost

Fitzpatrick, Michael G.

R-Pa.

$438,280

Won

Latham, Tom

R-Iowa

$412,540

Won

Reed, Tom

R-N.Y.

$260,725

Won

Peters, Gary

D-Mich.

$250,100

Won

Veasey, Marc

D-Texas

$150,100

Won

Total

 

$4,003,370

 

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

The candidate benefiting most from NAR's independent expenditures, Republican Gary Miller, won a closely contested race in a newly created congressional District in California's San Bernardino County. Today, unofficial election results showed Miller besting fellow Republican Bob Dutton with 55.2 percent of the vote.

(California's open-primary system, employed for the first time this year, allows the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary to advance to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation. As a result, many races in the state featured two candidates from the same party).

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAR made $1.39 million in independent expenditures on Miller's behalf. The Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise reports that when last-minute expenditures are added to that total, NAR spent more than $2 million backing Miller in the 2012 election cycle.

Top political advocacy issues for NAR include protecting the mortgage interest tax deduction for homeowners, restructuring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that they are "explicitly backed by the government," limiting proposed restrictions on mortgage lenders, and expediting short sales.

Last year Miller co-sponsored a bill, HR 2413, outlining how the government might restructure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

NAR said it not only worked on the bill with its authors, but that HR 2413 "was directly derived from the principles and recommendations" developed by a NAR Presidential Advisory Group. With the introduction of the bill and another supported by NAR, "the debate over reform of the secondary market has shifted away from one focused on rapid and total privatization of (Fannie and Freddie) to a more careful conversation on the need for continued government involvement," NAR said in a report to members.

Miller, who serves on the influential House Financial Services Committee, has also spearheaded efforts by members of California's congressional delegation to stop bulk sales of homes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has foreclosed on in the state and added to their "real estate owned" REO inventories.

In April, Miller and 18 other members of California's congressional delegation sent a letter to Fannie and Freddie's regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, objecting to the REO sales, citing low inventories of homes for sale and potential harm to taxpayers. Miller also introduced a bill that would have halted bulk REO sales in California that stalled in committee.

Also signing the letter to DeMarco was Brad Sherman, a Southern California Democrat who cruised to an easy re-election victory Tuesday with 60.5 percent of the vote in the 30th Congressional District.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sherman was the second-biggest beneficiary of NAR's independent expenditures, with Realtors spending $560,200 on his behalf.

Gregory said that decisions about where to channel RPAC's independent expenditures are guided largely by a group of a half-dozen Realtor volunteers -- not NAR staffers. The volunteers meet four or five times a year, and make recommendations to the RPAC board of trustees.

Decisions about where to direct independent expenditures must be made far in advance because RPAC must work independently of candidates' election campaigns to formulate a strategy and commission creative work like television commercials.

Because decisions must be made far in advance, some of the races NAR gets heavily invovled in don't come down to the wire, Gregory said.

"We start looking in June, and then we come up with a list and go in and do polling in those districts to see who needs our help," he said. "So we are basing our decisions (on who needs support) based on polling done in July."

Pennsylvania Republican Michael G. Fitzpatrick, fourth on the list of top beneficiaries of NAR independent expenditures, was easily re-elected in the 8th Congressional District. Fitzpatrick, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, captured nearly 57 percent of the vote, besting Democrat Kathy Boockvar by more than 40,000 votes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAR made $438,280 in independent expenditures on behalf of Fitzpatrick.

In Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Tom Latham won re-election to a 10th term with the help of more than $400,000 in independent expenditures from NAR. A Republican, Latham serves on the House Appropriations Committee where, thanks to his seniority, he chairs the subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

Because of redistricting, Latham was up against another incumbent, Democrat Leonard Boswell, with both candidates seeking to represent Des Moines and southwest Iowa. The Omaha World Herald called a "TV ad war" between the candidates "perhaps the ugliest part of the race."

Latham, the paper said, "ran ads that accused Boswell of giving huge bonuses to his staff. Boswell accused Latham in commercials of personally benefiting financially from TARP, the government bailout program of 2008." In the end, the race was not a close one, with Latham besting Boswell by more than 30,000 votes.

New York Republican Tom Reed won re-election to the House in the newly formed 23rd Congressional District Tuesday, with the help of more than $260,000 in independent expenditures by NAR on his behalf. First elected in 2010, during his first term in Congress, Reed introduced a bill, HR 4336, that would extend a tax break for homeowners when lenders forgive part of their mortgage debt in a short sale, foreclosure or loan modification.

Forgiven mortgage debt was previously considered income by the IRS, and taxed as such. A law enacted in December 2007 that excuses borrowers from paying tax on forgiven debt secured by a principal residence expires at the end of the year.

With the help of more than $250,000 in independent expenditures by NAR, Democrat Gary Peters was re-elected to a second House term, representing voters in southeastern Michigan's 14th Congressional District. Last year, Peters co-sponsored HR 1859, a bill to revamp Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which was supported by NAR.

Texas Democrat Marc Veasey is moving from the state Legislature to the U.S. House of Representatives, having won the race in the newly created 33rd Congressional District with the help of $150,100 in independent expenditures from NAR. Veasey had the backing of the Texas Association of Realtors in his successful 2010 re-election bid to the Texas House of Representatives.

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