What is advocacy? Patrick Newton, Director of Advocacy Communications and Strategy, and Shannon McGann, Chief Advocacy Officer, do a deep dive on NAR’s advocacy organization, how it works, and why it matters.


[00:04] Welcome to the Advocacy Scoop, the podcast that takes you inside the advocacy work of the National Association of REALTORS®, connecting 1.5 million members with their advocates in Washington for a front row seat to the fight for public policy that strengthens the ability of Americans to access property ownership.

[00:25] Welcome REALTOR®. I'm Patrick Newton. Welcome to the Advocacy Scoop pilot episode. I'm here with Shannon McGann, NAR's Chief Advocacy Officer. Hello, Shannon.

[00:35] Well, thank you, Patrick. We are thrilled to bring this new advocacy-focused content to all of our 1.5 million REALTORS®. If you've ever attended one of our conferences, you know that the Advocacy Scoop is one of the most popular sessions.

[00:48] Our goal with this podcast is to bring those advocacy insights to a wider audience while you're on the go. We understand that you can't always be at our conferences and you're probably not looking at the Washington Report on our website, even though I will encourage you to do that. So, this will be the latest in our advocacy work, policy updates from Washington or around the country, stories you won't hear anywhere else.

[01:11] And this is our pilot episode. So, our goal for this episode is just to give you a look at what advocacy is and does. You hear that word all the time at NAR. You hear it in a lot of our communications.

[01:22] Shannon runs our entire advocacy operation. It is the envy of Washington we like to say. It's one of the biggest, it's one of the best, and we're gonna explain to you all the components of it and why it's the best.

[01:32] And Shannon, I want to share a little bit about your background and how you ended up in this job. Oh gosh, well that is one of the most dangerous questions to ask anybody in Washington, D.C. is about their professional background.

[01:44] So, I'll try to to keep that quick. But I've been in D.C. for 25 years now, moved here in the late 1900s to attend the George Washington University and started working on campaigns in high school through college, on the Hill for about six, seven different offices, went over to the Treasury Department for a while, and then joined NAR back in October of 2018.

[02:09] So, geez, it's been five years plus and has been one of the best work experiences of my life. You're kind to say that I run advocacy, it runs me. Everything that we do, our entire calendar or schedule is based upon the congressional calendar and what's happening around the country. Patrick, you also are a key component of the Advocacy Team running our communications and have a very, interesting career. So, let's hear about your background. Well, I work with Shannon in Washington, D.C. I haven't been here quite as long, about 18 years, spent a year, spent a decade on the hill.

[02:45] Before that, I was in journalism. So that's a little bit about our background, but enough about us. I can say that this podcast is in response to the hundreds of conversations we've had with REALTORS® around the country who want to know what is really happening in Washington, D.C. Give us a little bit more about what is happening in Washington, D.C.

[02:59] Give us a glimpse behind the curtain of our advocacy efforts and we're doing this in a format that delivers it directly to your ears because we know that you're busy, you're on the go, you don't have time to sit around and look at a newsletter that we're sending you. So, we are hoping that this is a great format and we have the most transparent advocacy team that I have ever seen where everything that we work on goes on the website, we're sending comment letters where we're filing the Washington Reports, we're putting it in our REALTOR® Party newsletter, which you all receive, but we fully understand that that's not always the best way to get your information when you're on the go.

[03:35] So, this podcast is designed for you to respond to those questions that we have received on the road hundreds of times, if not thousands. Give us a glimpse of what's really happening in Washington. What do I need to know this week? What do I need to know that's happening in the next couple of months? That's designed all for you. Yes, and this episode, Advocacy 101, we're going to give you a quick look at how we have structured, how the how the National Association of REALTORS® has structured its advocacy operation. It is so much more than you probably think that it is. And, so we want you to know that and we want it. We want you to know that here.

[04:12] So, if one of your colleagues says, you know, oh, well you know what is that what does that do's money that says advocacy go toward it's like well listen to episode one of the advocacy scoop podcast and you'll know. And so, like with that said, let's get into it Shannon because I like to think that we have four major components our advocacy, and the first one we're gonna talk about is lobbying. And, is that a dirty word? Am I allowed to say lobby? Everyone uses the term lobbying except for lobbyists because because we understand that that term comes from, I think the 1800s, or so, when Washington D.C. was a very small town and anybody who wanted access to information would go to these fancy hotel lobbies.

[04:53] I think that term came from the Willard and wait for these members of Congress to have their steak dinners and come out and then start just peppering them with questions.

[05:03] That is certainly not how NAR manages our advocacy efforts. And, that's why we use the term advocacy. And because you are listening to this podcast and you are interested in this, you are an advocate. We do everything from developing public policy. We have an amazing group of subject matter experts who actually write those Washington Reports and the comment letters and review legislation.

[05:27] And many of them have been with NAR for years, if not decades, and have been experts in their field. We also have our government advocacy team.

[05:37] So, that's the term that many would say lobbyists, but government advocacy. They are hitting the Hill whenever Congress is in session, taking folks to meetings, keeping that line of communication open directly with those policymakers, especially those elected positions. We also have an entire team of of people who works with our state and local associations. There's a belief, a misguided belief, that what NAR does is all national and is all federal when in reality about two-thirds of our advocacy efforts are actually spent back with state and local associations on everything from zoning changes to looking at statewide ballot initiatives and right control efforts and things like that.

[06:20] So, we are incredibly active throughout the country, not just in D.C., but for this podcast, we'll be focusing a lot on what's happening in your nation's capital. And then we also have our political operation.

[06:31] Everyone thinks of that. We will talk about that plenty on this podcast. We do have one of the largest and most bipartisan political action committees in the country. Our PAC raises money about $15 or more from individual REALTOR® members and has about a third, if not, I think it's 36 % now of our members who have actually donated to the PAC, making it one of the largest in the country when it comes to that percentage of participation.

[07:00] So, we're involved in all kinds of races, everything from local races all the way up to the US Senate. We are not involved in presidential because that's a good way to lose half of your customers, right away when people think that you're getting involved in something that big.

[07:12] But we are incredibly fortunate to have such an impact in the RPAC area and we'll be talking more about that soon. Yeah, well, going back to the the advocate, I love the way you explain that because it doesn't matter what you do for a living, whether you're a REALTOR® or whether you're a firefighter or a nurse or a small business owner, there is somebody in Washington D.C., whether you realize it or not, who is advocating for for you. They are there to make sure that federal agencies are not putting out misguided rules and regs that are going to harm an industry, the tyranny of good intentions, as somebody who said it to me one time. But, you know, and also we're experts in housing policy. The real estate sector makes up nearly 20 % of the entire US economy.

[07:56] So, when lawmakers and policymakers are talking about housing policy and a lot of other things, they wanna make sure that they're not harming 20 % of the American economy.

[08:06] And, so we talked about our advocates, the advocate team, and we have folks who pound the pavement, they walk those halls of Congress. Can you name all the halls of Congress? Oh gosh, all the halls...

[08:18] I can tell you that I worked in Rayburn for like nearly half of my career and I still get lost every time. There are dead ends, who has dead ends? ends in the hallways? It's miles and miles of hallways that our team is walking up and down every day.

[08:31] They're taking meetings. They're going to congressional hearings. There's a subcommittee of a subcommittee. There's so many and you know, we keep track of all of them. I mean, we send so many letters, hundreds of letters going out from us over the years, just taking a position and going on the record of all of these issues. And, they're all on our website. I know, like I said, everything's available right there. Just go right to the Washington Report.

[08:54] The traffic's gonna be off the hook. You don't need melatonin. Just go and go straight for those letters. And they are important. They become part of the congressional record. And as soon as something is, legislation is moving, people will hold those letters up and say, this is what we're hearing from experts in the field. And, I especially liked Patrick that you mentioned our expertise throughout the association. It's not just with our policy team, but Dr. Lawrence Yun, who is our chief economist and Dr. Jessica Lautz, who you will see on TV, you'll see them out there quoted quite a bit that we aren't simply selling a policy procedure or a policy proposal.

[09:31] We are out there explaining why and the value of understanding what the problem is and having the stats, and having the research, and having that economic expertise to show that there are significant problems.

[09:46] For instance, when it comes to inventory, we were the association that some four plus years ago rang the alarm that we had record low inventory and this was causing a housing affordability crisis.

[09:59] And, you had the Biden administration citing this report, members of Congress citing this report and now this is something that is common knowledge because of the amazing work that our research team has done and the work that our government advocacy and policy experts have done to get that message out.

[10:14] Yeah, I mean, when our research team says something, it moves markets. I mean, the people are waiting for that information to come out, we don't even know. It is a state secret inside the NAR building. I think Lawrence is the only one that knows that information ahead of time and they send it out at the exact second that it goes out and the reporters are waiting for that information to hit their inboxes and that is how we keep track of real estate in America.

[10:43] And the reason for that is our members and we have a million and a half REALTORS® on the ground reporting back information, and we're in pretty much every zip code in America and so there's no better way for policy makers, lawmakers to know what is happening in their own districts, but all across the country than listening to us. Well, on top of our advocates that meet with members of Congress and they meet with their staff as well, we have our policy team. And their focus is not Congress, it is the executive branch, they work with regulators. They're out there talking to FHFA and Fannie and Freddie and getting the look from Patrick that I should stop using acronyms. Okay, Federal Housing Finance Agency and HUD, Housing and Urban Development, there are a host of federal agencies that work directly or indirectly in the housing space.

[11:34] I mean, like you said, the fifth of the economy, there's, I can't think of any congressional committees or regulatory agencies that don't in some way touch the housing economy.

[11:45] And we're talking to them day in and day out, and our team of experts led by the amazing Bryan Green, our vice president of policy advocacy, who is a fair housing expert who has spent many years at HUD running their fair housing programs, joined NAR several years ago, and was promoted when Joe Ventrone retired to the vice president of policy advocacy position. And he leads that team and is incredibly well respected and also quoted quite a bit. So our policy team, you know, they go through the federal register so you don't have to and make sure that these rules and things that are getting written. And you know, when they put out a rule, there's a public comment period and then we weigh in and then, you know, it carries weight because when we weigh in, it's a million and a half people weighing in, not just an association in DC, which is why we're unique. We have a political action team, RPAC, the REALTOR® Political Action Committee that is funded not by an industry but by 1 .5 million of our REALTOR® members.

[12:44] That's exactly right and with the donation being $15 or more and, that gets split up between local state and federal efforts and our RPAC, our PAC, being one of the largest and most bipartisan in the country last election cycle, we gave to both Republicans and Democrats and federal offices, and it was a 50 /50 split. You rarely see any type of political activity that is so bipartisan in nature, and that also reflects the balance we're divided, however you decide to look at it, nature of what Congress looks like right now with a pretty evenly split Senate and House, and also the electorate. One of the things that we have seen in the past several election cycles is that the new constant is change and that we're seeing a change over in political parties and leadership and there is no organization which are able to connect with folks and make sure that we have those relationships and that we are aware of the political climate and the issues that could follow than RPAC and NAR. Exactly. I mean, you know, I love the way you say balanced because we had a situation for what like was it 40 years that the house was democratic and then you had in the 90s, you know, the Republican Revolution with Newt Gingrich and now the House and the Senate, it feels like one of the two change parties every two to four years. We've had constant change and being in the middle is tough sometimes.

[14:13] Exactly right. right and then and it's also important to note that throughout all of those changes that have occurred over these years that our positions have not changed. Our positions are developed by a very intense process.

[14:27] I mean we have more committees than Congress does, and our board of directors our leadership structure ensures that anything that our organization is supporting has gone through many levels of support all the way through the board of directors.

[14:39] So, just because somebody else wields the gavel that Congress, or we see somebody who is a REALTOR® champion who may unfortunately lose, we are still focused on those direct issues and we fight that long fight to ensure that property ownership is available to all.

[14:57] Well, moving on from the pack, because you talked a little bit about how involved we are, state and local. So, let's talk about another big component of our advocacy is grants.

[15:08] And we don't just get involved in congressional races, we're also out there with our members who are on the ground keeping an eye on maybe a local ordinance on rent control or on zoning.

[15:22] You said to me one time, and I've always remembered this, and I quote it all the time, "There's no such thing as a local or state or a federal issue." Oh, I'm so glad that I'm quotable on something that isn't embarrassing, but correct.

[15:33] No such thing as a local versus state versus federal issue. Every issue is one committee amendment away from becoming federal or vice versa. And, so we are consistently working with our state and local associations to ensure anything that bubbles up, we're aware of, and we understand the research behind it that we can get our amazing economics and research team to look behind it. The policy policy behind it, and also what the probability of something moving forward is.

[15:59] And a huge part of that are these local grants. These are everything from placemaking grants to land use initiatives. I mean most people think it all politics or local, same thing with real estate.

[16:09] You're focused more on what's happening with the community park development down the street, or zoning changes that could be made. And we are right there with NAR providing critical funds that will go back to to those local associations to help with those efforts.

[16:22] So, part of those, you know, advocacy dues that you pay do go right back to your local association in a lot of ways. That's exactly right. And I mentioned earlier about two thirds go back.

[16:33] So, it's not all in the federal space. A lot of this is let's see where these battles are and where we need to be engaged in making sure that the funding is getting to the right place. When you think about your dues at NAR especially your advocacy dues, it's like an all-inclusive resort. It's like you pay your resort fee and you go and there's a zillion things that you can do. It's all there for the taking. And so there's just something for everyone.

[16:46] There's something for everyone. There are so many grants, so many programs, so many ways to get involved. There are so many ways we are keeping an eye on policy, on legislation, looking 10 years down the road. We want to find out where advocacy is going to be in 10 years and beat everyone there. And so that's what we're doing here in DC. And that was the point of this pilot episode of the Advocacy Scoop because Shannon talks about this at our conferences, especially our mid-year conference in May, REALTOR® Legislative Meetings, which if you don't come to, you should. It's a great time, about 10,000 people come to town. We take over the whole city.

[17:32] It's after the cherry blossom, so it's not too crazy downtown. And it's fun because it's a city-wide takeover. That's event speak. It's like when you have to block 25 hotels and take over a whole city, and it's a great time. And there's REALTORS® on every street corner and every restaurant for three or four days hitting the halls of Congress, so it's a great time. But Shannon gives her signature advocacy scoop, sort of state of advocacy speech. And then also at our annual conference. conference, NAR Next. And so this brings us to, we're starting to run out of time. I'm sure you're almost to your next showing by now.

[18:06] But we would like to, we want to end each episode, it's closing time. Don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Exactly. And, also like I said earlier, I love a real estate pun. So anyway, it's closing time. So that means Shannon, tell me a story. Oh Gosh. Something behind the scenes, something that, just some awesome story from your advocacy work. Well, this is this is not going to be my direct advocacy work, but I do want to share something about awesomeness and that is another REALTOR® acronym of FPCs. So, for those of you who are not familiar with the FPC that means you're not one that's a federal political coordinator. So, Patrick mentioned that we have these direct relationships with members of Congress from around the country and this is a real tour member who is in that district who is assigned to that member of Congress and their job is to show up at local events develop a relationship with the staff come to D.C. when we do fly-ins and then we'll often have a call for action where we ask those FPCs to reach out on a particular issue.

[19:11] So, you're going to hear that term quite a bit as we discuss our our efforts here. It is one of the envies of all of advocacy. I have many friends and other trade associations and organizations who are like, "What's that? FPC program? What's that thing that you have there?" We're like, "Yes, it's our REALTOR® grassroots program. It's amazing. We'll be discussing it more as the episodes go on." Yes, and you have a good tale of activating it.

[19:36] We can activate our FPCs with the push of a button. It's like the bat signal. We just send up the REALTOR® R into the sky and they can reach out to their designated member of Congress when something pops up because we don't know what's gonna be on the congressional calendar sometimes until it goes live.

[19:56] Sometimes they don't know. They don't know. Sometimes they don't know at all. We're telling them, "Hey, did you see that? It popped up on the calendar." Calendar? Yeah, so we'll tell you some cool stories about when we've been able to activate our FPCs and make a real difference.

[20:11] So, that's the scoop. Thank you to everyone listening to this podcast. Please be sure to subscribe and share wherever you get your podcast and meet us right back here for more advocacy scoop next time.

REALTORS® are members of the National Association of REALTORS®.


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