Realtors put down money on the (U.S.) House

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The National Association of Realtors claims to be America’s largest trade association, acting as the “Voice for Real Estate” on behalf of more than one million members. With a political war chest of millions, that voice can shout quite loudly for friendly federal candidates.

The trade group operates a traditional PAC which is subject to spending limits set by the Federal Election Commission, as well as a super PAC, the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund, which can raise and spend unlimited funds to elect federal officials. The super PAC’s extensive membership base and fundraising ability gives it serious clout on the campaign trail. At the beginning of September, the super PAC had raised more than $8 million.

Most special interest money in the 2014 elections (that is publicly disclosed) has targeted key Senate races, partly because they’re more expensive and partly because the House of Representatives seems certain to remain under Republican control. The realtors have joined in: Their super PAC has made a $1.7 million investment in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. this cycle, and spent nearly $1.4 million backing Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, typical of power brokers who put more stock in incumbency than ideology.

The NAR’s PAC has contributed money to candidates across the full range of the political spectrum, from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

In recent weeks, however, the realtors’ super PAC has poured more than $2 million into three relatively unheralded House races. That’s because the three candidates it’s backing — two Republicans and a Democrat — have all taken policy stances that realtors like.

Those expenditures, more than $700,000 per race on polling, ads and direct mailers, represent a major leg up for candidates in a House race, the vast majority of whom (302 out of the 441, according to figures tabulated by Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tool) have seen less than $1,000 in total outside spending.

In Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Joseph Heck, earned the NAR cash for cosponsoring a bill that expressly protects the mortgage interest deduction, a popular tax break that some lawmakers and pundits think should go.

While the Nevada race is arguably somewhat competitive — Heck has felt some heat in recent months, running against Democrat Erin Bilbray in a moderate district — the other recipients of realtor largesse have little to worry about.

Blue dog Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida will likely coast to re-election in Florida’s 18th, a district on the state’s Atlantic coast that covers Port St. Lucie and part of Palm Beach county.

But NAR spokesperson Jenny Werwa told Sunlight, “[Rep.] Murphy is on the House Financial Services Committee and he was a very strong supporter of the flood insurance legislation that we supported.”

That legislation, which Murphy helped shepherd through the House, was the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in March. It limits annual increases to flood insurance premiums for homeowners and was strongly supported by the realtors trade group.

Unlike the other two recipients of the Realtors’ largesse, Ryan Costello has no track record in Congress, running for the open seat in Pennsylvania’s Sixth fresh off a tenure as the Chester County Commissioner.

Werwa tells Sunlight, “before running for the seat Costello was the Chester County Commissioner, while he was there he did a lot of work to preserve farm land and open space… As a candidate he’s expressed support for key issues like maintaining the mortgage interest deduction.”

The NAR would not provide copies of its mailers or ads, but a source in Pennsylvania surfaced this mailer on behalf of Costello: