A Message from President Mike Theo: Continuing Our Traditions

 Mike Theo  |    November 09, 2017

Our organization has many traditions. Perhaps the most impactful is our custom of cooperation. The practice of marketplace competitors cooperating on industry issues is unique. But working together to bring order, professionalism and a consumer-centric process to the buying, owning and selling of real estate has been in our organizational DNA since that first day in 1908 when a group of brokers, meeting in Chicago, formed this association. 

That principal of cooperation has served us very well over the century that followed. It led us to create a Code of Ethics in 1913; coin the word “REALTOR” in 1916, which was later trademarked in 1949; create the MLS, which enshrined cooperation and consideration into the market; pass housing finance laws like FHA in 1934, Fannie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970; commit to electing pro-real estate candidates with the creation of RPAC in 1969; and pass long-overdue fair housing laws in several iterations over several decades. 

The list of accomplishments, based on our ability to join together to fight adversity or seize opportunities, could literally go on and on. But nowhere is that cooperation, and the success it breeds, more evident than in our public policy advocacy success. 

We commit significant human and financial resources, at all three levels of the organization, in pursuit of passing good laws and defeating bad ones. This process starts at the ballot box with the election of candidates who understand our industry and support our issues based on their words and deeds, through their voting records, live interviews or responses on questionnaires. Helping elect candidates to office doesn’t guarantee they will support us on every issue, but because of our electoral involvement, those candidates are willing to listen. 

American politics today is more cantankerous than ever. But the issues our elected officials face today are more ominous than ever too. So what do we, as REALTORS®, do? The choice seems to be either engage or disengage from the public policy debates. Disengaging is easy and feels good about now. But engage we must. The threats and the opportunities are too great to surrender the legislative field to others to decide. And our tradition of cooperation dictates we engage in the political process together. This is why our dues are increasing next year.

In February 2016, the Wisconsin legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s campaign finance laws, greatly increased contribution limits and expanded contribution sources to include corporate funds. Moreover, every year, the WRA receives an increasing number of requests for financial support for other lobbying and advocacy projects. This need for advocacy funding is above and beyond the RPAC requests we receive for contributions to candidates. 

To continue our legislative successes, the WRA leadership decided a meaningful, sustainable and fair way to raise additional funds was necessary in response to the new laws and increasing demands for advocacy funding. After considering numerous options, the WRA board of directors voted to increase dues $35 — the first dues increase in six years. 

The new revenues will be used to finance a new REALTOR® Advocacy Fund, providing contributions to legislative leadership committees of both political parties in both houses of the legislature and the two political parties. Funds will also be used for grassroots lobbying issue advocacy communications and independent expenditures in support of candidates who support our issues — all consistent with Wisconsin and IRS laws and regulations.

Nobody likes to raise dues. We’ve worked hard at not raising dues for six years. But like many times in our past, the new laws present us with new challenges and new opportunities. And, as is our tradition, our goal is to meet these challenges and opportunities together. Passing good laws and defeating bad laws benefit us all. 

Not every member supports every candidate or every issue supported by the WRA and by RPAC. But those political and legislative decisions are based on recommendations made by sincere and earnest members and leaders acting in the best interest of the members, the industry and Wisconsin property owners. They act not in the interest of partisan political parties but as representatives of the “REALTOR® Party.” 

The WRA advocacy efforts include political expenditures to candidates through RPAC and the Direct Giver program; legal expenditures through the WRA Legal Action Fund for filing briefs; grassroots issue advocacy expenditures to the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance; legislative lobbying efforts through member Calls to Action and professional staff; and now, through the new Advocacy Fund, through contributions to legislative campaign committees and the political parties. As we have in the past, we need to come together now to effectively respond to the threats and opportunities of our time. 

No one likes today’s noxious political environment and no one likes a dues increase. But our efficacious track record of passing good laws and defeating bad ones, to the benefit of our members and members of the public who own, or want to own, real property, require us to engage once again. We must carry on the tradition.

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