We know that the WA Realtors PAC has spent $175,000 in “independent expenditures” hoping to buy a place on the November General Election ballot for four candidates: Nadine Woodward, Cindy Wendle, Andy Rathbun, and Michael Cathcart. We know that nearly 2/3 of the that money ($117,132.70) came from PAC donors with addresses outside Spokane and Spokane Valley. We know that every penny of the money WA Realtors PAC spent went to “Access Marketing” in Denver, Colorado for internet and print media. Not a penny benefitted a Spokane firm.
What do they think they’re buying? Here’s the official version found in the Spokesman:
The impetus behind the spike in campaign activity is addressing “a crisis with housing availability and affordability,” according to Tom Hormel, chair of the WA Realtors PAC and a member of the Spokane Association of Realtors’ government affairs committee.
“That’s why we’re playing big this year,” Hormel said. “We took an opportunity to change the face of the City Council to help get us out of this crisis.”
Ben Stuckart, Breean Beggs, and a majority of the City Council have been promoting infill housing, the revitalization of Spokane neighborhoods, and public/private partnerships to provide affordable housing for years. Ignoring their efforts, Tom Hormel offers the self-serving idea that only the Realtors’ (and Developers’) candidates can make Spokane housing available and affordable. Horse manure. (We’ll explore Mr. Hormel’s premise in a later post.)
How did it happen that the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee (WA RPAC) was induced to spend so much money from outside Spokane to take over the Spokane City Council and retain the Spokane Mayorship? What’s the connection? Let’s look at the details.
WA Realtors PAC is just Washington state’s arm of a rich lobbying and political influence network under the umbrella of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). At a national level the Political Action Committee of NAR (the National Association of Realtors PAC, often abbreviated RPAC), spent more money on the federal midterm elections in 2014 than any other PAC. The National Rifle Association didn’t even make the top ten, but its spending gets a lot more news. Why? Nationally and traditionally, RPAC has supported both Republican and Democratic candidates who the leaders of RPAC felt were most aligned with RPAC’s goals. When a national trade union of realtors and developers (that’s what NAR’s RPAC functionally is, of course) sprinkles money over both sides of the aisle it doesn’t make news. (The NRA, by contrast, is essentially a combative wing of the Republican Party–so NRA spending raises eyebrows.) What feels new here in Spokane is the realtors and developers weighing in with big bucks in support of slate of Republican/Libertarian candidates. (Anyone who thinks the municipal elections are really “non-partisan” is not paying attention.)
To understand how that $175,000 came to the Spokane municipal primary elections one needs to get clear on the players. The abbreviations and relationships among the Realtors and their PACs get confusing really fast. First we have SAR, WAR, and NAR, the Spokane, Washington, and National Associations of Realtors, respectively. (WAR is now officially WR, Washington REALTORS. Apparently, the WAR acronym was too suggestive.) Think of each of these as a trade union wielding influence at three levels of government on behalf of developers, bankers, and other real estate people. The Spokane Association of Realtors (SAR) does not have its own political action committee. The $175,000 spent in Denver to influence the Spokane municipal primaries came from the state-level WA Realtors PAC.*
WA Realtors PAC, according to PDC filings as of August 30, has a total cash balance of $2,013,664.05. Only $58,000 of that 2 million dollars came this year from contributors with addresses in Spokane or Spokane Valley.
WA Realtors PAC has spent only $300,926.67 of that 2 million. That does not include the 175K we’ve been talking about. At the WA Public Disclosure Commission website that $175,044.20 spent in Denver on the Spokane elections appears as Debt, not yet an actual expenditure. Who at the WA Realtors PAC directed the organization to incur that debt?
Tom Hormel, the man who claims the $175K was spent to “address the housing crisis” in Spokane, has all the political and trade connections to direct this extraordinary election purchase. He is 1) the Chair of the WA Realtors PAC, 2) a member of the Spokane Association of Realtors’ government affairs committee, 3) 1st Vice President at Washington Realtors (state wide), and 4) a real estate broker with REMAX in Spokane. He has a foot in every camp. As a member of the Spokane Association of Realtors Government Affairs Committee, Mr. Hormel is involved in SAR’s interviewing of candidates for endorsements. In the context of the Government Affairs Committee, Mr. Hormel interacts with Michael Cathcart (a developer, not a realtor) who frequently sits in on committee meetings. (Cathcart is the recent second place finisher in the Spokane City Council Primary Election (to the far right Mike Fagan acolyte, Tim Benn) in NE Spokane (City of Spokane Election District 1).
Cathcart’s campaign was the beneficiary of $9615.78 of “independent expenditures” (a 40% premium on Mr. Cathcart’s official campaign coffers) from the Tom Hormel-chaired WA Realtors PAC. I am not suggesting anyone could “prove” that WA Realtors PAC’s $9615.78 expenditure was not independent. I am sure no mention of PAC money expenditures is made in open meeting of the SAR Government Affairs Committee. I am only pointing out that intertwining personal relationships between candidates and the man most responsible for WA RPAC incurring 175K of debt make the word “independent” a bit of a joke.
Why so much money to support these particular four candidates? To be continued…
Keep to the high ground,
*Confusingly, both the WA Realtors PAC and the National Association of Realtors PAC are referred to by the members of WR and NAR as “RPAC,” even though technically they are different entities. WA RPAC reports to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. The National RPAC reports to the Federal Election Commission. (Click the names to go to their Commission listings.)
P.S. It gets even better: Tom Hormel’s official city of residence for the purposes of the PDC is Spokane Valley. We have a man who is not even a resident of the City of Spokane while he is instrumental in trying to buy its elections using what is mostly other people’s money.
P.P.S. Of that roughly $58,000 from residents of Spokane and Spokane Valley $36,995 came in donations of $35 each from 1057 of the roughly 2200 dues paying members of the Spokane Association of Realtors (SAR). Mostly these are local realtors who simply check-marked the “donate $35 to RPAC” button when they renewed their memberships. Many had no idea they would be supporting a tight slate of Republican candidates for these nominally “non-partisan” positions. I’ve asked them. When one is a member of an organization like SAR (or any other organization) and one checkmarks the PAC donation box, you run the risk of your money supporting candidates you wouldn’t vote for. People like Tom Hormel get to leverage their influence using your money. Message: get involved, pay attention.