|The Meaning of Political Power|
modified from a column by Richard Mendenhall, 2001 NAR President
The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has now been recognized in Fortune magazine's listing of America's 25 most powerful lobbying organizations for four consecutive years. Something to brag about? You bet.
Based on a survey of 2,900 members of Congress, senior Capitol Hill staffers, senior White House aides, professional lobbyists and top-ranking officers of the largest lobbying groups in Washington, NAR ranked No. 9 in the magazine's "Washington Power 25" list in 2001. This is up from No. 11 in 1997, 17 in 1998 and 15 in 1999. (The list was not produced in 2000.)
It Takes More than Money to Achieve This Kind of Clout
What does it take to make it into the ranks of the nation's mightiest lobbying organizations? And, what can NAR do to increase its political clout in Washington? I can tell you that it takes more than money. It takes more than good intentions. It takes more than a well-organized campaign. It takes more than heart and soul. It even goes beyond solid messages that ring true with America's voters. It takes all of that and more. Let's get down to basics and look at the three things each organization on the "Power 25" list has in common:
- A highly competent and knowledgeable lobbying and political and staff;
- A substantial political action committee or "war chest" for political contributions and issue advocacy campaigns; and
- A large geographically dispersed and politically active membership.
Any organization has to be strong in all three areas if it is to consistently be in the legislative winners' column. A short fall in any of these three key areas is like trying to sit on a three-legged stool with one leg shorter than the others. Let me tell you a little more about why each of these elements is necessary to have a highly effective lobbying organization.
Competent professional staff: You wouldn't perform an appendectomy or heart bypass surgery on yourself. Instead, you would go to a trained surgeon. Nor would you recommend that a person sell his or her own house without the help of a trained real estate agent. The legislative process is very complicated and an organization must have topflight professional advice and help if they are to navigate through the minefields that it sometimes takes to bring wise public policy to reality. But, highly competent professional staff alone is not enough. The "hired guns" need strong support from the two other areas; campaign dollars and grassroots.
A strong political action committee: All highly effective lobbying organizations must have the ability to contribute substantial financial resources to support congressional candidates who are sympathetic on their key issues. The REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC) is one of the nation's largest and most successful PACs. In fact, in the last election cycle, RPAC was the No. 1 PAC in terms of direct contributions to U.S. House and Senate candidates. RPAC made direct contributions of $3.4 million during the 1999-2000 cycle to pro-REALTOR® candidates for Congress, for a total of $3.68 million including hard dollar contributions to national party committees and leadership PACs.
A large, geographically dispersed and politically active membership: Of all the factors, which make an organization powerful, nothing is more important than a large politically active membership. NAR has 760,000 members nationwide. There are REALTORS® in every congressional district, county and town throughout this country. And these aren't just businesspersons, these are community activists who truly care about the neighborhoods in which they live and do business. The core of NAR's lobbying clout is our members' passion for political involvement and dedication to making each and every neighborhood a better place to live and work. While NAR cannot match the membership numbers of the American Association of Retired Persons, the National Rifle Association, or large labor unions like AFL-CIO, NAR's large and participatory membership is our true strength.
In a recent battle to keep banks out of the real estate brokerage and property management business, NAR generated more than 100,000 letters, faxes and e-mails to the Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Treasury and Congress in opposition to a regulatory proposal that would allow the nation's largest banks to add real estate to their growing list of business activities. The Fed alone got 44,000 letters and e-mails commenting on the proposal it put forth with the Treasury Department, virtually all of them from REALTORS®. There is no other U.S. trade association or lobbying group that can garner that kind of widespread participation in any campaign.
The Challenge Ahead
While we can pat ourselves on the back for our association making it into Fortune's power elite list four years in a row, we all know intuitively as Babe Ruth once observed, "Yesterday's home run won't win tomorrow's ball game." So the challenge we all face is how to maintain or even increase our political clout.
The answers are simple. First, we must increase REALTOR® political participation to even higher levels than we now have. While RPAC receipts are coming in at a record high level, this is not the time to rest on our success. Only about a quarter of our members contribute to RPAC. We need to make that at least half.
Also, even though we generated more than 100,000 REALTOR® contacts on the banking proposal, this is less than 14 percent of our total membership of 760,000. One can only imagine the lobbying success we could achieve if we could double that number. Even then we would be mobilizing less than one in three REALTORS®.
Neither of these goals is unachievable. If NAR is to increase, or even maintain, its political power in Washington, every REALTOR® should support RPAC and get involved in NAR's grassroots political participation programs. NAR has a new grassroots activation center online at http://www.naractioncenter.com. Members are encouraged to go to the site to register and see what you can do to help on our latest public policy efforts. Once registered, members are notified of upcoming Calls for Action and other ways to be involved in the association's lobbying efforts. Only through RPAC support and public policy advocacy can we ensure that the right message gets out to both politicians and the public. REALTORS® must build on their power to make sure that the American Dream we care so much about stays alive and real for as many people as possible.