Why ‘Political Giving’ Isn’t a Dirty Concept

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The Columbus Apartment Association General Membership met at the Bluestone on Thursday, September 14 to learn more about the CAA Political Action Committee (PAC) and why it is so important for each member to be actively involved.

CAA Executive Director Laura Swanson kicked off the meeting with a few announcements and Membership Vice President Steve Pappineau welcomed the new members in attendance.  Finally, CAA President Nate Fisher welcomed the panelists: Steven Gladman, Senior Policy Analyst for the CAA, Leah Pappas-Porner, Partner, Calfee, Halter, Griswold, Andrew Showe, Showe Management and Ted Bloom, Baker Realty.

Gladman began the session by asking the audience a few industry specific questions. 

What If…?

  • You could not use RUBS or submetering
  • You were required to pay an annual $50 per unit inspection or regulation fee
  • You were required to replace all smoke alarms with ones using a new technology
  • You were required to pay for refuse collection on properties in the City of Columbus
  • You had your property declared a nuisance if there are more than three police/squad runs per year
  • All on site leasing and maintenance staff were required to be licensed real estate agents

“I asked these questions because all of these items, all of these things have been suggested more than once, or, once within the last few years.  These are not hypotheticals,” Gladman said.  “These are things that occur.  Things like registration, in many parts of the state, is a registration fee per unit.  Trash pickup by municipality, that costs.  Columbus is the only large metropolitan city that does not.  There are things that we do on your behalf that potentially save you a lot of money.”

A number is hard to quantify, but, Gladman suggested that if you did put a number to it, it could potentially be thousands and thousands of dollars per year.  He emphasized that PAC contributions and participations allow the public policy advocates to do their work.

Gladman turned the panel over to Pappas-Porner who represents the Ohio Apartment Association (OAA) in front of the Ohio Legislature.

“Often times people ask me what I do and I say I’m a lobbyist and they kind of turn their nose up because the reaction that some folks have to government can be negative.  More so, in the concept of political giving,” she said.  “I try to talk about why it’s important for a business owner to be involved in government.  OAA is involved in government because, often times, government wants to regulate you, government wants to tax you or government wants to tell you how best to run your business.”

Pappas-Porner pointed out that while government wants to do these things the Ohio General Assembly is made up of individuals from various walks of life, many different parts of Ohio and from many different professions, however, none have experience running a multifamily housing business or a business that does business with the multifamily industry.

A big part of being engaged with government is to educate members of the General Assembly about what you do for a living, about how you make money and how you lose money.  She suggested meeting members of the General Assembly and talking to them about what you do.  There are numerous industry vying for the time of each legislator.

The second thing Pappas-Porner emphasized is having a relationship with legislators.  Not necessarily a personal relationship, but, just having the ability to call on them on a regular basis so they can recognize individuals and the organizations they represent.  These relationship are made even more vital in the day and age of term limits when it becomes necessary to educate new members every eight years or less.

“You talk about smoke detectors, you talk about submetering until you have a relationship.  It’s like, why as a business owner you want to know who plows your snow,” she said.  “Because you’re paying them and they’re doing a service for you and if something goes wrong you want to be able to pick up the phone and call the person and talk to the person that you’re doing business with.”

While those relationships are vital Pappas-Porner pointed out that it is also why a trade association exists.  Collectively, the relationships, the access, the money and the talents are all funneled through in one voice.

Speaking from the industry side, Bloom discussed his involvement in OAA and CAA from a public policy perspective.  Bloom picked up on the idea of a legislator’s lack of experience in the industry.

“Sometimes they have an idea that is really good, but, the way they want to go about implementing that idea creates the exact opposite impact they’re trying to avoid, unintended consequences,” Bloom explained.  “I think our industry has access, especially with local officials.  Many times if an idea comes to them, they’ll reach out to our professional staff and say ‘hey, we have this idea and want to get your perspective.’”

After talking with industry experts as a sounding board an idea is allowed to grow. Having those relationships is critical, not only as an industry, but, to prevent public policy problems in the community, Bloom suggested.  Potential solutions are not always the best solutions for the community, if an effect of a proposal is detrimental it can lead to good owners selling properties leading to the opposite of what was trying to be accomplished. Bloom directly attributed that access and those relationship to a healthy PAC.

Finally, Showe spoke to the importance of raising PAC dollars, as CAA PAC Chair, it’s a mission for him to see the donations increase to allow for more advocacy.

“It’s frustrating to see the lack of participation from our members both in giving time and money,” he said.  “We’ve got to dedicate our time and resources to meeting these people, educating them about our industry and providing them support.  The ask from legislators in the past 10 years has quadrupled.  And, in that 10 years, there are a core group of eight to 10 who have carried the water for the industry, they probably represent 20% of the total membership.”

Likening that contribution to dollars and cents Showe pointed out that over the last decade PAC contributions have only amounted to less than 12 cents per unit.  He referenced the earlier issues mentioned by Gladman which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a property.

“Our goal each year is $50,000.  We need that to have a seat at the table.  When these legislators call and we don’t give either time or support, they’re not going to care about our issues.  They’re not going to hear our voice.  They’re not going to represent our issues,” Showe continued.  “I think it’s a small ask for a big issue.  It’s going to continue to be a big issue because all municipalities are looking for revenue and we’re an easy target.”

Gladman finished by encouraging the audience to look at a political contribution as building a business relationship.  Don’t reject the idea of donating because you don’t like politics, rather look at it as an investment to protect your business, he suggested.

For more information about how you can participate in the CAA PAC take a look at the resources on the CAA website www.caahq.com.