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When it Comes to Housing, Money Talks

No surprise here, really: Mortgage brokers, real estate companies and homebuilders have made more than $95 million in political contributions so far this election cycle. That’s already more than the entire total the housing industry contributed during the last cycle in 2006, the Wall Street Journal said.

No surprise again: The money went toward winning favorable provisions in the mortgage rescue plan now being debated by Congress, the Journal reported in a weekend story.

None of this is surprising because everyone knows that money talks in Congress. Still, the Journal’s story had some interesting specifics about just how loudly the housing industry speaks, and how clearly it is heard:

The contributions serve as carrot and stick, awarded to lawmakers who share the groups’ positions and withheld from those who don’t. When the National Association of Home Builders wasn’t getting what it wanted in the housing bill, it shut off the campaign-cash spigot. The group’s chief executive, Jerry Howard, said it withdrew contributions until Congress included measures it wanted, including a credit for first-time home buyers. The group’s members made 300 visits to lawmakers and 1,200 phone calls demanding action, and the group’s board voted to resume contributions when the measure began to take a shape more to its liking. The bill now includes an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, which was also high on the wish list of the National Association of Realtors.

Another great detail: Big donors include Countrywide Financial Corp. and recipients include lawmakers with key roles in the rescue bill. Let’s just go ahead and name them, thanks to the Journal:

On the Senate Banking Committee, they include Chairman Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.), ranking Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.). On the House Financial Services Committee, recipients include Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.), committee Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.)

And a final non-surprise. Lawmakers say the money doesn’t influence their positions on legislation. Neither the lawmakers, nor the Journal, addressed the question of whether anyone hears the needs of those outside the housing industry - say, families facing foreclosure - who don’t have anywhere near the same amount of money to spend on lobbying and donations.

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