Texas Real Estate PAC is only concerned with property rights issues — issues like appraisal reform, eminent domain, homeowner associations. Money raised by TREPAC is supposed to be used to lobby lawmakers on those kinds of issues.
But for the most part, the 84th Texas Legislature, now in session, hasn’t addressed those kinds of issues. Lawmakers have, instead, given higher priority to efforts to stop progress toward LGBT equality, including bills like the one introduced by Rep. Cecil Bell aimed at circumventing a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling later this summer legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Even though property rights issues have not been on the front burner, TREPAC funds have still been going to Texas lawmakers this session. And Carrollton real estate broker Bob McCranie says that money is overwhelmingly supporting legislators opposed to marriage equality.
Supporting anti-marriage-equality lawmakers goes against TREPAC’s mission, McCranie continued, because “Marriage is a property rights issue.”
That’s true in a community property state like Texas even more than in states that are not, McCranie continued. He explained that couples can protest taxes together. They buy and sell property together, apply for loans together and pay taxes together. Marriage affects inheritance.
But TREPAC doesn’t see it that way.
McCranie and other agents who have spoken to TREPAC said the political action committee sees marriage equality as a social issue.
“Why aren’t they defending the property rights of all Texans?” McCranie asked.
McCranie, whose Texas Pride Realty agency is located in Carrollton, said he gets calls regularly from gay couples moving to the Dallas area, who tell him, “We’re moving to Texas and we’re scared. Where can we live where I can drop off our child at school in the morning and he can pick our child up in the afternoon and we won’t get shot?”
That, McCranie said, is how bad Texas’ reputation is elsewhere.
The current situation does nothing to allay that bad rep, McCranie said, noting that when a same-sex couple buys property from an LGBT real estate agent and that agent supports TREPAC, that couple’s money is going to support legislation that discriminates against them.
MetroTex Realtors, the local affiliate of the Texas Association of Realtors, stages The White Party each year to benefit TREPAC. This year’s event raised more than $100,000 — money that has supported those legislators opposing equality.
TREPAC donated $355,000 to legislators who sponsored HB 4105, a measure that would bar county employees from issuing marriage licenses. Its author, Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, was among those receiving funds.
Real estate agent Paul LaPierre said he stopped supporting TREPAC almost 10 years ago, explaining, “I noticed a bunch of assholes getting the money.”
He said his concern wasn’t just money going to legislators specifically doing harm to the LGBT community, but to legislators taking the state in the wrong direction.
“Their outlook on society was different than mine,” LaPierre said.
He also called TREPAC’s claim that marriage is a social issue to be nonsense. He also said the mantra of “property rights issues” to be a new invention for TREPAC.
In the early 2000s, when the Texas legislature was still under Democratic control, LaPierre said that TREPAC collected money under the guise of “protecting agent commissions.” He said the PAC warned that the state was going to add a special tax on commissions — but no such legislation was ever actually discussed, he added.
Once Republicans came into office, LaPierre said, it was less believable that lawmakers were going to establish new taxes, so TREPAC came up with the “property rights issues” story.
“The organization has a good aim — to protect homeowners,” McCranie said. “I’m just asking them to protect gay and lesbian homeowners as well. It bothers me LGBT agents are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to this organization.”
Membership in Texas Association of Realtors gives agents current, accurate MLS listing information as well as access to MLS properties without needing the cooperation of the listing agent. That organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. TREPAC is the organization’s political action committee and, because it is a 501(c)(4), there is a firewall between the two organizations. Realtors are asked to voluntarily contribute to the PAC.
More than Texas
The problem isn’t just in Texas.
Geoff Rosenberger is a member of the Atlantic City and County Board of Realtors and New Jersey Association Of Realtors.
“Gay Realtor members, my self included, have been addressing the issue of RPAC dollars we give to anti-gay legislators for a while with the national association and state associations of Realtors, to absolutely no avail,” Rosenberger said.
He said his years of membership dues fund these legislators, and he has no alternative organization to join that would give him access to MLS listings.
Rosenberger been asking the current New Jersey organization to open a discussion regarding who their PAC is funding. After two months, he’s received no response.
Yet funding these anti-equality legislators seems to violate the National Association of Realtors’ strict code of ethics, which says a Realtor “shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Across the country, RPAC contributes to legislators who are anti-gay on many issues which affect our property rights,” Rosenberger said.
After passage of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, Bruce Bright, the president of the Indiana Association of Realtors, issued a statement. His state’s PAC, supported by many LGBT real estate agents, had been contributing to politicians who voted for the anti-LGBT discrimination law.
“The economic harm that has beset our state is real, it is obvious, and it must be stopped,” Bright said in his statement. “We add our voice to the chorus: Fix this issue now.”
Attempts to contact TREPAC for comments on this story have been unsuccessful so far.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2015.