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|Alexandra Duszak||May 26th 2012|
It’s challenging enough to knock off an entrenched member of Congress in a primary contest. But California State Sen. Bob Dutton probably didn’t count on the fact that he would also be picking a fight with nearly a million Realtors.
The Rancho Cucamonga Republican is running against Rep. Gary Miller, a 14-year GOP incumbent in the June 5 open primary. The National Association of Realtors political action committee and a super PAC funded by the trade association have spent more than $709,000 on advertising and direct mail supporting Miller. "The amount of money being funneled into this primary from Washington, D.C., special interests on behalf of Miller is mind boggling,” said Clint Lorimore, Dutton’s campaign manager, in an email.
Actually, the super PAC is based in Chicago, as is the trade association. But the NAR has an office in the capital and plenty of money to spend on Washington politics. The association spent more than $22 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
The NAR is also the sole funder of the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund, a super PAC, which has spent about $313,000 on independent expenditures in the race with the regular PAC making up the balance. Super PACs, made possible by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, can spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose the candidate of their choice as long as they do not coordinate their activities with the campaign.
Miller sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the real estate and insurance industries, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He is also the founder of G. Miller Development, a home building and development company. The NAR’s employees and regulated PAC have contributed $68,019 to Miller over the course of his career, according to CRP. Only the National Association of Homebuilders has given more.
That number may seem small, but contributions to federal candidates from political action committees that support multiple candidates are capped at $5,000 per election. “It’s fairly clear that they’re [Realtors] going to have a level of access to him that the ordinary American doesn’t have,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation.
Phone calls and emails requesting comment from Miller’s offices in Washington, D.C., were not returned. Scott Reiter, the managing director of the Realtor's association’s regular political action committee doesn’t see a problem with the super PAC’s pro-Miller expenditure. “That’s perfectly legal,” he said. “That’s called democracy.”
Dutton has also received support from a super PAC — Inland Empire Taxpayers for Jobs has spent $50,365 on his behalf on consulting and direct mail. The group’s biggest backer is Prime Healthcare Services Inc. of Ontario, Calif, which contributed $25,000.
It’s not clear why NAR spent money from its regular PAC on ads supporting Miller. Unlike a super PAC, regular PACs can make direct contributions to candidates and are subject to contribution limits. In the 2010 election, the association’s super PAC spent $1.1 million.
Miller found himself in a tough race following redistricting. Having represented the once solidly Republican 42nd District since 1998, he chose to run in the 31st District this year after the 42nd became significantly more competitive.
The National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund was one of the first super PACs to have accepted contributions solely from a related trade association; during the 2010 election cycle, the National Association of Realtors was one of a handful of nonprofits to be responsible for the entire funding of a super PAC, according to CRP. This election cycle, the California-based Cooperative of American Physicians has done the same for its super PAC, contributing $2.5 million since the beginning of 2011.