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The Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) has considered a complaint filed by a member, who objected that the dues she paid to the National Association of REALTORS® (“NAR”), the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, and the Berkshire County Board of REALTORS® (collectively, “Associations”) were being used for political purposes.

Marguerite De Santis (“Member”) is a member of the Associations.  In 2012, she opposed to the proposed $40 dues increase by NAR as part of its “REALTORS® Political Survival Initiative.”  She argued that she was only a member of the Associations so that she could access an association-operated multiple listing service which was necessary to her business, and she argued forcing her to pay dues for political activities to operate her business amounted to coercion.  She believed that she should be able to opt out of paying this additional amount of dues.  Therefore, she filed a complaint with the FEC, naming the Associations.

The Associations responded to the complaint by arguing that following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United (click here to read more), the Associations could use their treasury funds to engage in certain types of political activity, such as independent expenditures.  In addition, the Associations stated that none of the treasury funds would be contributed to federal political committees or federal candidates.

The FEC dismissed the complaint through an administrative process, exercising its prosecutorial discretion because the matter would not be an “efficient use of the Commission’s resources.”  The FEC determined that payment of voluntary membership dues in exchange for services that the Member perceives as valuable to her business (i.e., MLS access) did not warrant further action by the FEC.

Chairman Lee E. Goodman filed a concurring statement to emphasize that a voluntary membership organization’s use of its treasury funds, derived from membership dues, for independent expenditures does not amount to the coercion of individual members under federal law.  Following Citizens United, corporations can engage in these types of activities, and federal campaign finance law only regulates contributions to federal political committees or candidates, not how a corporation chooses to use its treasury funds.

National Association of REALTORS®, MUR 6520 (Fed. Election Comm’n June 18, 2014).