Posturing for Progress

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Winning the War for Influence: How Political Dollars Shape the Housing Debate As the conversation surrounding housing finance continues to shift shape, the role of one key player—the lobbyist—moves to the forefront of the conversation. By Cade Holleman, AVP Government Relations & Communications, American Legal & Financial Network (ALFN) O utspent. Outsmarted. Outdone. Out of our minds? In the years since the 2008 housing collapse and onset of the foreclosure crisis, the amount of money the real estate, mortgage banking, and financial services industries have spent on lobbying has skyrocketed. It's no surprise that more targeted oversight and increased regulation would bring an industry's lobbyists to the Hill in record speed, but the numbers are staggering and should leave us wondering, where is all this political money pushing the future of mortgage finance and homeownership? When it comes to spending (and winning), the National Association of Realtors (NAR) leads the pack. It wasn't always so, though. Before the Great Recession, NAR competed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as the leading lobbying organizations for the real estate and mortgage finance industries. When the real estate and residential mortgagebacked securities market peaked in 2006, NAR fell off the list of top lobbying client spenders (for all industries), but one year later, as the market clearly began to shift downward, NAR landed squarely back in the top 15 with nearly $14 million spent. Each year since, NAR has climbed in the rankings to where it sits now: the second largest spender of 2013 to-date, the same designation it earned in 2012. The association has spent more than $140 million in lobbying the government since real estate markets first turned in 2007. While its spending has generally been in the $9 million to $17 million range since the late 1990s, the Realtor's association spent a record $41.4 million in 2012. Within the real estate industry, after NAR's whopping $40 million takes the top spot, the Real Estate Roundtable and Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) round out the top three with their combined $6.3 million. Over the last decade, they've also outspent retirees (the NAR just barely outspent the American Association of Retired Persons by less than $4 million); the oil and gas industry's biggest players including Exxon Mobil; and major defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. Political Dollars Do Good Things S pending big bucks on government relations (or lobbying or advocacy) isn't all bad, if it's bad at all. Corporations large enough to have in-house budgets for lobbying are naturally present on the Hill or on nearby K Street, D.C.'s ground zero for lobbyists and trade associations. When it comes to associations, which often hold some sort of tax-exempt IRS designation, many myths exist about their ability to lobby. According the American Bar Association (ABA), nonprofits, including the most restricted type, the 501(c)(3), can legally lobby without exploiting any kind of legal loophole. In fact, according to the ABA's Business Law Section, "Getting involved in the legislative process and having a say in policy discussions is not just an appropriate role for nonprofits; it is vital." The ABA continues, saying, "If nonprofits are not speaking on behalf of their oftenvulnerable communities, chances are nobody else is either." After all, it is the association that represents a dense population of professionals and businesses in the same industry who can speak to the issues most significant to their communities, clients, and bottom lines. The M Report | 27

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