My guess is that the real estate sector is almost always an important political constituency in any major U.S. city. But the real estate lobby is particularly active in Austin, due both to the city’s rapid growth and its byzantine land use regulations. In other words, while the real estate industry is booming under the current rules, it also has a big incentive to push for change at City Hall by supporting development-friendly candidates and lobbying for changes, both big and small, to Austin’s land use rules.
There are a bunch of associations that represent different segments of the industry: contractors, builders, realtors, property managers, title agents, developers.
However, many of these trade associations don’t do a lot in city politics on their own. The only two groups that spend significantly on city politics are the Austin Board of Realtors and the Real Estate Council of Austin.
Who is RECA? The widespread perception is that it is the developer lobby. That description is not inaccurate, but it is incomplete. Below is the breakdown of RECA’s 1,800 members, according to the group’s 2018 survey.
The four dozen people who sit on the group’s board of directors include developers, engineers, architects, lobbyists, and lenders. Some have theorized that fee-for-service land use professionals (lobbyists, architects, engineers) may not have as great of an interest in overhauling land use rules because they make good money now from all of the billable hours they charge navigating Austin’s convoluted code. Other industry insiders have dismissed that theory, saying that business (not to mention the city) will be better for everyone with an improved code.
The donors to the RECA’s political action committee, which spent $188,000 last year, represent an even broader range of interests.
In the most recent election cycle, by far the largest donor (besides RECA itself) was the Bukowski Law Firm, a local real estate legal practice that gave $35,000 to RECA’s “Advancing Democracy PAC.”
However, tied in second place are the Austin Police Association and Texas Disposal Systems, which both gave $7,500 last year. Huh? What are the police union and a garbage company doing giving to a real estate PAC? It’s pretty simple: You can only donate $350 to a candidate, but you can give as much as you want to a PAC. If you support Natasha Harper-Madison or Pio Renteria, the easiest way to help them is to give to RECA.
The police union is still a curious case, since it has its own PAC and has historically been very active in promoting candidates through its own expenditures. But in 2018, the APA didn’t do much spending of its own, instead funneling nearly all of its election-spending through RECA.
Also curious is that ABoR, which spent roughly $300,000 on its own promoting candidates, also contributed $5,000 to RECA’s PAC.
Other real estate interest groups that contributed to RECA’s PAC include the homebuilders association and the Associated Builders & Contractors, which represents nonunion contractors.
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