Buy a House?

Realtors Show Political Savvy with Contributions/Lobbying

April 13, 1998

Madison - Wisconsin’s real estate industry spent at least $1.4 million on campaign contributions and lobbying since 1993 to push proposals that often favor realtors and developers at the expense of home buyers, and conflict with environmental protection, the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported.

"During the past five years, realtors have successfully pushed bills through the legislature that leave them virtually liability free if a home buyer finds an expensive problem after the sale," said Mike Buelow, author of the report. "How do they get so much influence? They put a down payment on success through a sophisticated system of campaign contributions and lobbying. They peddle influence and they peddle it well."

The report, "Realtors Do More Than Just Buy and Sell Houses in Wisconsin" showed:

  • Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson received at least $406,000 in real estate industry contributions from 1993-97.
  • Collectively, legislative candidates received more than $310,000 from real-estate interests.

The non-partisan WDC also found that:

  • Realtors contributed substantially more to Republicans and incumbents than to Democrats and challengers.
  • Real estate interests frequently contributed outside their legislative district in close races that would determine control of the state Senate.
  • Realtors who live outside Wisconsin are among the largest contributors to Thompson and legislative candidates. Two of the top four live outside Wisconsin.
  • Realtors spent a lot of time and money (15,273 hours and $556,651) that average citizens don’t have to lobby statewide elected public officials.
  • In addition to traditional lobbying, the realtors also spend thousands of dollars each year on expensive luncheons to unite lawmakers with constituent realtors.

"The realtors show an acute knowledge of the political process," said Buelow. "They focus their giving on those in power, they weigh in on important elections, and their lobbying machine is ever present. Their contributions grease the skids for an equally high-cost lobbying effort to push their agenda."

WDC’s findings coincide with the recent introduction of about a half-dozen real estate development-related measures. Each of the bills was sponsored by about 20 lawmakers, and most of the bills had the same sponsors. They have collectively received tens of thousands of dollars from real estate interests.

One measure, which requires greater justification to zone environmentally sensitive areas, was backed by 20 lawmakers who have received at least $58,290 in real estate-related contributions.

Last February, Assembly leaders halted legislative business for nearly two hours to let members attend the realtors’ luncheon. One lawmaker said that was unusual. When asked why it happened for the realtors, he responded, "It’s their money."

"Special interest groups are the main beneficiaries of a campaign finance system that relies on big money contributors," said Gail Shea, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "The realtors’ ability to advance their narrow agenda is just one example of why we need campaign finance reform. Other special interests reap the same rewards under the current system and the broad public interest loses out."

Realtors Do More Than Just Buy and Sell Houses in Wisconsin