Issues Campaigns

Wisconsin REALTORS® Help Lower Property Taxes, Strengthen School Budgets, and Protect Property Rights

2017 was a year full of issues campaigns for the REALTORS® of Wisconsin, resulting in success on all fronts:  a new state budget with substantial increases for school and university funding; the permanent elimination of a property tax that’s been on the books since the Great Depression; and the creation of a new law overturning an old one, severely detrimental to property rights, that had recently been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The victories were achieved through two issues mobilization campaigns, both of which had a strong grassroots component, explains Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). In each case, a generous REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant provided WRA with the voter profiling expertise of NAR consultants, and funding for an advocacy campaign involving billboards, bumper stickers, extensive mailings, phone banks, radio and online advertising, and a website.

The first two triumphs, the elimination of a decades-old property tax and the increase in education spending, were the result of the passage of the 2017 state budget proposed by Governor Scott Walker. WRA had advocated with the governor to get rid of the old tax, which only amounted to an average of about $27 per year for most property owners, but which went a long way to supporting the state’s Forestry Division; the budget transferred responsibility for the forestry programs to the general fund of income and sales taxes.  The governor’s budget also proposed a record amount of spending for K-12 public schools, as well Wisconsin’s university system. “We strongly supported the budget, as great schools are important to homeowners with kids, and because high property taxes hurt affordability. Both issues are vitally important to the Wisconsin real estate market, so mounting a campaign to persuade the legislature to pass it was really a no-brainer,” states Murray. The new budget passed in September, and a replica of one of WRA’s colorful billboards from its successful campaign now graces the governor’s desk.

The second effort effectively reversed a local ordinance in effect in 52 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties that sapped the value of adjacent parcels of lakefront properties belonging to a single owner.  In a state of more than 15,000 lakes, notes Murray, “that’s a lot of property owners affected!” In the case known as Murr v. Wisconsin, a property owner supported by the Pacific Legal Foundation argued that because the ordinance took away her family’s right to sell an adjacent property, it amounted to an unconstitutional taking. The Wisconsin Supreme  Court denied her claim, and its decision was then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  “Not only did the ordinance deprive her of her property rights,” says Murray, “it deprived her of her property’s value. We had submitted an amicus brief to the high court on her behalf, and when her case was denied, we set to work changing the law.” A second Issues Mobilization Grant in July funded a campaign that convinced lawmakers to create a new ordinance that returned rights to Wisconsin’s lakefront property owners. WRA named it ‘The Homeowner Bill of Rights.’  “Property rights are the very core of what we exist for,” asserts Murray. “We’re very proud to have achieved this result for Wisconsin.”

They couldn’t have done it alone, he says: “The tools that the National Association of REALTORS® provides for grassroots issues campaigns are invaluable. Where else would we be able to get such sophisticated voter-household models, and tracking technology for calls and mailings, and expert campaign guidance?  The REALTOR® Party is what makes these successes possible — for property owners across the state.”

To learn more about how Wisconsin REALTORS® are using Issues Mobilization Grants to protect property rights, support school funding, and help reduce property taxes throughout the state, contact Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs, at 608-575-0023.

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Issues Mobilization

The Issues Mobilization Grant provides financial assistance to state and local REALTOR® Associations to support effective advocacy campaigns on public policy issues. Issues Mobilization Grants may not be applied for, nor may any portion of an awarded grant be used for, any activities related directly or indirectly to candidate elections*or legal action, or for any campaign activities that have been completed.


Before submitting an application for an Issues Mobilization Grant, associations are encouraged to discuss issue campaigns with Campaign Services staff.  Staff can assist you in developing a campaign strategy and suggest tools to use, including: polling, direct mail, phone calls, grassroots mobilization, advertising (online, print, radio & TV), and websites/social media.  All of these services are provided by NAR through our contract consultants at a discounted cost.  Staff is also available to assist with legal compliance issues associated with Issues Mobilization Grant applications.

Review the campaigns funded by an Issues Mobilization Grant to get an idea of the type of campaigns funded in the past.

The Independent Expenditure Program provides each state with funds that they can use to support candidates for political office who support REALTORS® and the real estate industry.

Issues Mobilization Resources

Questions? Contact Joe Maheady at 202-383-1006.

Application Process & Criteria

State and local REALTOR® Associations must complete and submit an Issues Mobilization Grant Application.  Before submitting a draft application, review the Guidance Document detailing Application requirements and procedures. NAR staff will review the application, discuss it with you and request additional information if necessary. Applications that do not adhere to the Guidance Document or do not include the required information, including a budget, signatures, etc., will not be considered for review by the State and Local Issues Mobilization Support Committee.

Once an application is finalized, the Committee will review it during one of their scheduled meetings.  Monthly Committee meetings are held in-person during the two annual meetings and the REALTOR® Party Training Conference, and otherwise via teleconference.  Applicants must make a presentation and be available to answer questions from the Committee during the meeting.

Additional information is applicable to requests of $50,000 or less and to requests greater than $500,000:

Applications $50,000 or Less

A grant application of $50,000 or less that is submitted to NAR by Monday at 5:00pm Eastern Time is considered that week through a Consent Agenda process, first by the Advisory Group and then by the full Committee.  The Advisory Group votes on whether to recommend full Committee approval, and the full Committee votes on whether to award the requested grant.  If any Advisory Group or full Committee member objects to approval of a grant application, that application is removed from the Consent Agenda and considered by the full Committee at the next scheduled monthly meeting.

Applications $500,000 or Greater

A grant application greater than $500,000 approved by the Committee must also be reviewed and approved by: NAR’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors, when the application is considered at meetings held during NAR governance meetings; NAR’s Leadership Team, when the application is considered at a Committee teleconference meeting or at the meeting held during the REALTOR® Party Training Conference. NOTE: review of an application by NAR’s Leadership Team may take several weeks to schedule.

Grant Application Requirements

On grant applications of $100,000 or greater, Campaign Services contract pollster must conduct or review polling in advance of Committee consideration of the application.  The Committee may waive this requirement on a case-by-case basis due to exigent circumstances.

All grant applications must meet the following Contribution Standards that equate to a percentage of the amount requested from NAR:

  • Applications of $25,000 or less: Minimum 10% association contribution
  • Applications between $25,000 and $1 million: Minimum 25% association contribution;
  • Applications greater than $1 million: Minimum 50% association contribution

Both financial and non-financial (in-kind) contributions may apply toward meeting the requirement. The Committee may waive the Contribution Standards on a case-by-case basis with a 2/3 majority vote, but such application approvals require subsequent approval by the NAR Leadership Team.

Committee Actions & Notification of Decisions

After reviewing and discussing an application, the Committeewill take one of the following actions:

  1. Approve the request in full.
  2. Grant a portion of the funding request.
  3. Approve all or a portion of the funding request provided special conditions are met.
  4. Postpone a decision until the Committee receives and evaluates additional information.
  5. Deny the request.

In making a decision, the Committee considers the following criteria:

  • Importance of the public policy issue
  • Scope of impact of the public policy issue
  • REALTOR®involvement in the public policy issue
  • Winnability of the public policy issue
  • Extent of community support for the REALTOR®position

Applicants are notified by NAR staff regarding the outcome of the Committee, Leadership Team or Board of Directors decision shortly after their decision is made.

Funding and Reporting

For approved requests, NAR staff will coordinate disbursement of funds with grant recipients. When legally permitted, NAR will disburse grant payments through submission of vendor invoices to NAR. Upon completion of the campaign, grant recipients must submit a Post-Campaign Report to NAR staff describing the issue campaign, support provided and outcome.

In situations where a payment-by-invoice approach is not possible or practical, NAR will make a lump-sum payment. Upon completion of campaigns in which lump-sum payments are made, grant recipients must submit, along with a Post-Campaign Report, an accounting of fund expenditures and return any unused funds to NAR staff.

Funding support for large and/or lengthy campaigns may be approved incrementally (i.e., multi-phase campaigns). In such situations,  a campaign Progress Report and an accounting of fund expenditures must be provided to NAR staff at least 20 days prior to the date of Committee consideration of each subsequent increment of funding, and any unused funds must be included in the application for the subsequent increment of funding.

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Missouri REALTORS® Form Coalition to Fight Sales Tax on Services

In the past seven years, no fewer than twelve pieces of legislation that could have led to a tax on services, including those provided by the real estate industry, were proposed in the state of Missouri.  “The threat is real,” says John Sebree, CEO of Missouri REALTORS®, whose organization has been swatting back each one, with the strong support of the National Association of REALTORS®.  This year, it seized an opportunity to shift from a defensive to an offensive strategy.  Its attempt to amend the state constitution to ban a sales tax on services is ambitious, and possibly unprecedented in the nation, but by appealing to the general public, first to get the referendum on the ballot, and then for votes in its favor, its Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition is finding strength in numbers.

This is not the first time that Missouri REALTORS® has led a charge to amend the state constitution.  It formed the Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition six years ago, to oppose a threatened transfer tax initiative; the Missouri constitution now prohibits such a tax.  That was seen as a largely real estate issue, explains Sebree, but the current referendum on the November 8 ballot banning a sales tax on services is everyone’s issue, he says, and the Missouri REALTORS® are feeling a groundswell of support for their effort to amend the state constitution for a second time.

“The general public may not have strong feelings about a tax on real estate services,” says Sebree, “but in this service-oriented economy, they definitely get it when you talk to them about how a tax on services will increase what they have to pay for daycare, and haircuts and car repair.”  The Taxpayer Protection Amendment, as the ballot initiative is called, opposes what would effectively be a ‘birth-to-death’ tax, he says.  The scope of services that might be affected is reflected in the Missourians for Fair Taxation coalition, itself, which began as a handful of real estate industry organizations, and now comprises twenty-four professional service groups, including those representing the state’s optometrists, broadcasters, cattlemen, interior designers, grocers and funeral directors.

With major backing from NAR and Missouri REALTORS®’ own state-level advocacy fund, the coalition is in the midst of an energetic campaign it hopes will make the Taxpayer Protection Amendment a legal reality.  In its first phase, the campaign was focused on polling and planning.  During phase two, the coalition secured tens of thousands of voter signatures in order to get its amendment on the ballot.  Gearing up toward Election Day, in addition to launching a barrage of paid radio, television and print ads, the cause has garnered an abundance of free media coverage thanks to the rallies held by Missouri’s 34 local REALTOR® Associations.  According to Sebree, social media has also been buzzing: “REALTORS® are naturals at using technology to get the word out; factor in NAR’s incredible resources for targeting likely voters, and that makes for some powerful communication.”  

The outcome is too soon to call, says Sebree, “but we have incredibly positive momentum at this point.  In any event, I’m happy to state for the record that we never could have gotten this far without the great team at NAR, and the support of the REALTOR® Party.”  Julienne Uhlich, NAR’s Campaign Services Manager, points out that the Missouri REALTORS® are pioneering a course that has national relevance.  “As states seek new or increased sources of revenue, the imposition of a tax on services is something that could become an issue for all REALTORS®.  Missouri’s pro-active effort to make it a constitutional impossibility, if successful, will be a great model.  It will not have been cheap nor easy, but this is the kind of action that could save lots of repeated defensive campaigns down the road.”

To learn more about how Missouri REALTORS® are taking the national lead on prohibiting sales tax on services by pursuing an amendment to the state constitution, contact CEO John Sebree at or 573-445-8400.

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North Dakota Becomes Sixth State to Constitutionally Ban Real Estate Transfer Taxes

North Dakota recently joined Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and Oregon as one of six states that now constitutionally abolish future real estate transfer taxes.  The 1,600-member North Dakota Association of REALTORS® (NDAR) used an Issues Mobilization Grant from NAR, funding from its own coffers and plenty of polling, advertising and leg-work to convince voters by a 75 percent margin that a constitutional ban on real estate transfer taxes was the way to go.

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