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Advocacy: The Best Politicians to Back

October 24, 2016

By Adam R. Davis

Integrity, transparency, and trust aren’t always associated with politics, but they are essential when your association is engaged in the political process of recommending candidates for office. There is no denying that politics is a controversial topic. When representing more than 6,500 members as we do here in Florida at the REALTOR® Association of Sarasota and Manatee, our candidate recommendations won’t please everyone, and neither will yours. Accepting this and understanding the importance of why you’re involved in the political process will prove to be one of the greatest member benefits for your association.

As a Government Affairs director, I see daily how action—or inaction—by elected officials can negatively affect REALTORS® and their clients. REALTORS® deserve the opportunity to focus on their business without worry that another unnecessary burden will affect their livelihood. These burdens may include ordinances banning For Sale signs or, more extreme, a sales tax on service that equals a further tax on commission. These burdens are easier to avoid when our supporters, aka REALTOR® Champions, are elected to office.

I often tout that REALTORS® don’t merely sell property, they sell entire communities. Whether those communities are residential or commercial, clients look for good schools, sound infrastructure, reasonable cost of living, and other variables that are affected by who’s in office. Our involvement in the political process ensures that our members have a quality community to sell because of quality elected officials. 

The process of getting a REALTOR® Champion elected varies by association. What works here in Sarasota and Manatee may not work in other associations. Establishing a process that works for your association may take a few tries, just as it did for us, but it will come together.

We start at the beginning of each election cycle, when the RASM Political Action Advisory Committee identifies which local and state races the organization is interested in. We focus solely on offices that can come into conflict with our policy positions. Through our candidate vetting process, each candidate is asked to complete a profile that covers basic information so that the time allotted for an interview is focused on our issues, not theirs. Our PAAC members then rate each candidate based on the quality of their interview and how their responses align with our public policy positions. After a total tally of individual scores and a verbal vote of members, a recommendation may be made to the RASM board. A recommendation may further include a request for a monetary contribution as well as use of REALTOR® Party resources. Our board then reviews all pertinent information before a final decision is made. Although our board gets the final say, some associations give full autonomy to the selection committee and don’t allow their board to overturn their decision.

Our candidate selection process involves 33 REALTOR® members between our PAAC and board. It’s common for REALTOR® associations to include major investors on the selection team, a great major-investor benefit. However the committee is composed, each member must understand the importance of their recommendations and that integrity must remain the top priority. Prior to each round of interviews, members are asked to identify any possible conflicts of interest, which may include monetary donations, personal endorsements, or even simple praise on social media. Should the committee decide a sufficient conflict is present, that member is excluded from voting but still able to participate in the discussion. Their input is valuable because there is a reason they have decided to support a given candidate.

As humans, we are inherently biased. Most of the members on our selection committee are extremely involved in politics or they would have no interest in being on the committee. What I greatly respect is their ability to understand their role and set their personal party affiliation and beliefs aside to do what’s best for the organization. I’ve had members share that they won’t personally vote for a recommended candidate but that they understand why the organization is behind that particular individual. That’s when you know the process is working.

After the candidate has been selected, your organization must spread the word to get him or her elected. Having a well-established process will allow you to demonstrate why a candidate was chosen.  Over time, as the culture of political involvement within your association grows, most members tend to find that so does the support of the recommended candidates and the process.

As the largest professional organization in the country, our strength is in numbers. Most successful associations take advantage of that through grassroots efforts. Your association can determine the level of involvement for each race. Simply putting your REALTOR® association name behind a candidate does go a long way, but using REALTOR® Party resources can often lead your REALTOR® champions to victory.

For any REALTOR® associations looking to get involved or wanting to reevaluate their process, government affairs directors and other associations can share what works. By reaching out to associations of various sizes and levels of involvement, you will piece together what works for you.

Host Your Own Candidate Training Academy

Often the best REALTOR® Champions are REALTORS® themselves. That’s the idea behind the Candidate Training Academy. It gives REALTORS® interested in running for political office an introduction to and expectation of how to run for elected office.  It is intended to give candidates a valuable head start in their political journeys and information on how to run successful campaigns.

State or local associations can host this day-long program either with an NAR-provided facilitator or their own. NAR has conveniently established a core curriculum that consists of seven chapters. Associations may use the outlined core curriculum, or pick and choose the curriculum that best suits their candidates’ needs. Materials are available from NAR at no cost to associations and are provided as a direct result of the REALTOR® Party Initiative.

For more, contact Kyle Lambert London at klambert@realtors.org or 202-383-1203.

Adam R. Davis is government affairs director at the REALTOR® Association of Sarasota and Manatee, Fla. Contact him at 941-952-3410 or adam@myrasm.com.