GAD Turned AE Keeps Strong Focus on Advocacy

Jarrod Grasso, incoming chair of the AE Committee, built the New Jersey Association of REALTORS® into a model of political effectiveness.

Topping virtually every survey of what brokers want from their association is political action. Although other product and service needs vary by location and brokerage size, political advocacy is almost universally valued.

“Our brokers are savvy enough to understand the nature of their business and know that without strong lobbying efforts on their behalf, taxes, fees, or other government burdens can negatively affect their bottom line,” says Jarrod Grasso, RCE, CEO of the New Jersey REALTORS®. For nine years before becoming the association’s CEO, Grasso served as the chief lobbyist responsible for the tracking, revision, and analysis of legislative issues affecting New Jersey’s real estate industry.

New Jersey has been actively pursuing several state and local political and legislative initiatives lately, from defeating a local ordinance that would limit commercial property size to making sure no new real estate taxes make it into the 2015 state budget.

But one national issue that has definitely had implications in New Jersey has been FEMA regulations and the National Flood Insurance Program.

“This issue really struck a chord after Hurricane Sandy and the implementation of the Biggerts-Waters Act, which extended federal flood insurance for five years,” Grasso says. “Many of our coastal associations sprung into action to help diminish the negative impact increased homeowner insurance rates will have on our housing industry. We must continue to lobby for an affordable insurance product for home owners.”

For Grasso, a good legislative awareness program consists of a multipronged approach with brokers playing a vital role.

“Brokers have to know they are a key component; they are the one the agents respect and trust. That’s why it’s important that brokers help to communicate our advocacy messages to their agents and get them engaged in the political process.”

New Jersey’s increased participation in Calls for Action and bump in Political Action Committee fundraising over the past few years reflects how not only the state but also the local associations are carrying the political advocacy message to the grassroots, Grasso says.

In fact, the REALTOR® organization’s ability to engage in a wide variety of political and issue campaigns is the envy of other organizations. “Not many of our fellow trade associations have the know-how or fortitude to run a successful independent expenditures campaign,” Grasso says. “Here in New Jersey, our friends in allied associations have turned to us for guidance and advice on how to run a sophisticated advocacy operation.”

Capitalizing on funds provided by NAR for issue campaigns and independent expenditures, Grasso has put New Jersey REALTORS® on the map with legislators and the public. The New Jersey association was the biggest non-union spender on state elections over the last several years, ranking fifth overall at $17.5 million, according to recent data from the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency.

Essential to this success is soliciting broker involvement. “Having open and honest messaging and making yourself available is the best way to foster strong connections with brokers,” he says. “I try my best to attend at least one meeting of each of our local boards per year and give a presentation to local members and brokers about the issues impacting our industry. It is key to the success to the REALTOR® organization and the REALTOR® Party program.”

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