The ABC’s of Advocacy
BY MARK ZIMMERMAN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
From the very beginning, REALTORS® have supported expanding homeownership opportunity, bolstering property owners’ rights and constructive regulation of the real estate industry. These are our core values. They are also among the primary reasons we have joined together as an association, since there is strength in numbers when we are promoting these issues.
NC REALTORS® takes our responsibilities to advocate for these values very seriously. Fortunately, our members have consistently supported giving us the tools and resources we need for this work. Since this investment is substantial, we thought we should explain how the process works and why each element is important to give us the best chance for success. The chart on this page summarizes how everything works together in our Government Affairs department.
Legislators and regulatory agencies make the laws and regulations under which we have to live. Therefore, we need to convince the rule makers to take our position to ensure those laws and regulations are helpful (or at least not harmful). Lobbyists do the daily work of that education. In contrast to Hollywood’s characterizations of lobbyists, their job is to provide information, explanation and reasoning why our position on an issue should be adopted. They are an integral part of the debates leading to good policy.
We employ several experienced, professional lobbying firms who have relationships with the legislature and executive branch to present our case for us. Without them, groups that oppose our issues would have free rein to influence the government in ways that would hurt our clients, customers and industry.
Everything else we do is designed to help our lobbying efforts be more persuasive. There are three segments to providing support: finding and assisting lawmakers who champion REALTOR® issues, organizing grassroots pressure for our issues and building an organizational reputation that commands respect for those issues. Let’s break each of those down.
Finding and Assisting our REALTOR® Champions
First, it is easier for our advocacy to be successful if we are lobbying folks who already agree with us. So, we support candidates running for office who think homeownership is a good thing, that property owners’ rights are important and that the real estate industry shouldn’t be hampered with unnecessary regulation.
One way we do that is through the NC REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC). The RPAC Trustees decide which candidate campaigns get direct contributions from the fund to which you contribute. Your RPAC investment helps us help our friends, regardless of their political party.
Another way we build champions is through our Property Rights Fund (PRF). The PRF is funded by member dollars. Its member board uses those resources to run advertising in key candidate races. These efforts are independent from the candidate campaign itself.
Finally, we have a group of State Political Coordinators (SPCs). These are REALTOR® members who have, or will, build close relationships with state elected officials. The SPCs communicate directly with their legislators on issues or bills on which we need help. If you know a legislator well either personally or professionally, we’d love to have you as an SPC.
Organizing Grassroots Activity
The next segment of lobbying support is grassroots activity. It helps to have constituents contact officials to persuade them on our priorities. There are many ways we accomplish this.
First is through the North Carolina Homeowners Alliance, an organization of about 75,000 homeowners across the state. We don’t ask them to get involved with elections. Instead, we ask them to engage their legislators or other public officials on issues important to homeowners. The Alliance has been very helpful, most recently by emailing the N.C. Insurance Commissioner to fight exorbitant home insurance rate hikes.
We also have an Issues Mobilization Fund (IM), which is also funded with member dollars. We can tap into the IM to create media campaigns on major issues to direct public opinion and get legislators’ attention.
We also engage you, our REALTOR® members. Sometimes you’ll get a Call for Action (CFA) from us or the National Association of REALTORS®. By clicking through that email or text, a message is sent to your legislator on a key issue under consideration. Many brokerage firms help with CFAs by having the broker get the message to you. We don’t do CFAs often, so if you get one, you know it’s a very important issue. Please take a few seconds to respond. It helps a lot.
We are also expanding our Government Affairs Directors (GADs) program to help local associations across the state. More on that program in a subsequent issue, but the objective is to help all local associations be more engaged with our issues.
Building our Reputation
Finally, our advocacy depends on having a top notch reputation. REALTORS® do important work to better the lives of your clients and customers and improve the communities in which you live. We also respond to needs; hurricane disaster relief being the most recent example. We try to publicize your good works so people understand that we are a key component of the economy and strong supporters of the citizens of this great state. We also sponsor other related organizations in their work supporting our issues.
All our government affairs activities work together to make it easier for our lobbyists to get legislators and regulators to support our issues. We want to help elect legislators who are understanding and appreciative of the importance of our core values. We want those legislators to hear from their grassroots constituents—folks across the state who have a stake in what we are fighting for. We also want them to be open to work with REALTORS® because of the respect our reputation engenders.
As you can see, a lot goes into making advocacy successful. It only happens because of your support. Without that, we’d be at the mercy of those who want to defund affordable housing, keep people from fully enjoying their homes and properties, make development more expensive and difficult and put unnecessary restrictions on the way you do business.
Mark Zimmerman is Senior Vice President of External Affairs at NC REALTORS®. If you have questions, comments or want to get involved, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.