This article originally provided by The State Journal

October 30, 2008

Realtors Spend Big Money to Support Capito

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-.W.Va., has a friend in Realtors judging by the amount of money their national association has spent to get her re-elected.

Story by Walt Williams

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-.W.Va., has a friend in Realtors judging by the amount of money their national association has spent to get her re-elected.

The National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee has spent nearly $700,000 in the race between Capito and her Democratic opponent, Anne Barth, according to campaign finance report data gathered by The Center of Responsive Politics and posted on At least $10,000 went directly to Capito's campaign, but the rest was spent on independent advertising, mailings and coordination of state activities to promote Capito's candidacy.

The amount of money thrown into the race by the Realtors' PAC makes it the single largest player in this year's state elections. To put it in perspective, the PAC has spent nearly 63 cents for every dollar that Barth has raised from her contributors.

Add that on top of the $2 million Capito's campaign has raised, and it gives the incumbent Republican a large financial advantage over her Democratic rival, who has raised about $1.1 million. However, representatives for both the Realtors' association and Capito are quick to point out there is no coordination between the campaigns, and the association's media blitz is mostly about touting what it claims are Capito's qualifications for office.

"We run for a candidate, not against a candidate," said Mary Trupo, public issues director for the National Association of Realtors.

The Realtors' association is only one of dozens of political action committees, or PACs, active in this year's elections. Barth has received help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent $248,000 on material both supporting Barth and opposing Capito.

At a state level, it is largely organized labor PACs that are big spenders, with the West Virginia AFL-CIO contributing more than $300,000 to candidates and causes, according to campaign finance reports filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office.

The role of PACs in elections has been controversial because some observers see the money they bring as having a corrupting influence on politics. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has pledged not to accept any PAC money in his bid for the White House, although he has accepted PAC money in the past.

PACs can contribute both to campaigns and run their own campaigns for or against candidates. Federal law prohibits PACs from coordinating such "independent expenditures" with political campaigns, so they are not considered campaign contributions even though they essentially are used for the same purpose.

Most of the support for Capito by the Realtors' association has come in the form of independent expenditures, such as a television commercial featuring a woman touting the representative's record in Congress.

Trupo said the association has a process in place for selecting which candidates it will support. Those candidates must be pro-housing, supportive of policies promoting home ownership and responsive to issues important to Realtors.

"It is not real subjective," she said. "We make it as quantitative as we can be when deciding who to spend our dollars on."

The association spells out that process on its Web site. As part of its "Opportunity Race" initiative, the association ranks candidates based on their willingness to support issues important to Realtors. The higher the ranking, the more support the candidates receive from the association.

Capito is one of only eight federal candidates to get the association's highest rating of "1A," guaranteeing her a high level of support.

According to the Web site, that support is six pieces of direct mail to voters, pre-recorded phone calls, favorable e-mails and an association field representative to educate Realtors on the campaign. Candidates must have "championed" the association's public policy priorities and must be in close races to qualify for the support.

The association threw its backing behind Capito because of her stance on several factors, such as her support for legislation to keep banks out of the real estate business, efforts to give small businesses the ability to expand health care coverage for employees and her advocacy for reforming the Federal Housing Administration.

Capito is not the only candidate receiving support from Realtors, according to The association's PAC has spent more than $3.1 million this election season, more than any other PAC. More than half the money has gone to Democrats, with the remainder going to Republicans.

This year's spending levels are not unusual for the association. Its PAC has been the top spender in federal elections stretching back to 2001.

Capito campaign spokesman Kent Gates stressed there was no coordination between his campaign and that of the Realtors' association. For example, he didn't know about the commercial until he saw it on TV, he said.

Gates also contrasted the association's efforts to those of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has attacked Capito's record.

"It is kind of sad they don't have too much about their own candidate to talk about," he said.

Trupo said she wasn't aware of any effort by the association to contact Barth to learn her views on issues important to Realtors. Such matters are left to its state chapters, she said.

Barth campaign spokeswoman Talley Sergent also said her campaign doesn't know about the ads by the Democratic PAC until they appear on TV. She didn't fault the PAC for criticizing Capito, saying her record "is not a pretty thing to see."

"The key thing here is the national Republican campaign doesn't have any money, so they are using other groups such as the Realtors to do their dirty work," she said.


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