The different politics of real estate groups

A mailer that the Center for Austin’s Future ran against Kathie Tovo.

Earlier this week, candidates and political groups turned in their final finance reports from 2018. The final report covers the last week before the Nov. 6 general election through the end of December.

One thing that I found most interesting was how the different real estate groups spent their money. The three big players were the Austin Board of Realtors, the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Center for Austin’s Future. CAF is not technically a real estate group, but it’s run by former RECA President Ward Tisdale and its main focus is promoting density and centrist leadership. No other business-aligned groups spent significantly.

Here are the rough totals for 2018 spending:

ABoR: $300k

RECA: $188k

CAF: $78k

(There’s some overlap. ABoR gave CAF $10k and RECA $5k)

ABoR got involved in all of competitive races. They spent on behalf of Adler in the mayor’s race, as well as Pio Renteria and Natasha Harper-Madison. They also spent to boost conservative candidate Frank Ward in District 8 and backed Danielle Skidmore in her unsuccessful attempt to oust Kathie Tovo in District 9. ABoR also contributed significantly to support the bond campaigns, notably the affordable housing bond.

(City rules don’t require groups to disclose how much they spent on each candidate. My sense is that ABoR spent less in District 8 than other races, however.)

CAF didn’t bother with the mayor’s race. And although the group endorsed Frank Ward in District 8, it didn’t spend any money to support him, either because they didn’t believe he stood a chance or because they didn’t view him as that much better on their issues than his opponent, Paige Ellis. Similarly, it didn’t get involved in District 1, likely judging that either Harper-Madison or Salazar would be development-friendly.

Instead, CAF spent all of its money to support Renteria in District 3 and Skidmore in District 9. Both of those candidates stood in strong contrast to their opponents, Susana Almanza and Kathie Tovo, on development.

Meanwhile, RECA only got involved in Districts 1 & 3. While the District 3 involvement was no surprise, what was impressive was that the group got behind Harper-Madison even before the general election, when most people still assumed that Vincent Harding was the favorite. The group wisely stayed away from getting in the Republican from Democrat fight in District 8. As for District 9, from what I’m told, RECA leaders didn’t believe that Tovo was vulnerable enough to spend money and political capital trying to take out.

Correction: I originally wrote that “CAF didn’t bother with the mayor’s face.” Of course, I meant to write “mayor’s race,” although at least one person has suggested it was a Freudian slip.

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