As the nation teeters on the edge of the fiscal cliff, a handful of commercial real estate organizations have reached out to our elected officials to encourage them to do something—anything—to prevent the freefall. The approach is a departure from previous lobbying efforts, according to Joseph Markling, chair and chief elected officer of BOMA International, an association that represents building owners and managers.
“While we’re still focused on lobbying Congress on specific issues that impact the industry such as leasehold depreciation and capital gains, we have a global message that we’re sharing: a lack of certainty kills all growth, and the fiscal cliff is a big uncertainty,” Markling says. “We’re now operating at two different altitudes when it comes to our lobbying.”
Cindy Chetti, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC), says her organization and its members are “taking every opportunity” to talk with members of Congress to stress the importance of making a decision. “Many of our members were frustrated to watch what happened in August, and they’re using their influence,” she notes, adding that NMHC also signed a letter in conjunction with the S Corporation Association.
Even private companies are getting in on the action. CORFAC International, for example, sent a letter to President Barack Obama and leading members of both parties of Congress urging them to “compromise in running the government and growing the economy”.
CORFAC is a full-service commercial real estate services provider with 54 affiliate companies across the nation. The letter was signed by 32 of CORFAC’s 53 affiliates.
“We’re a bunch of entrepreneurial firms, and we typically don’t take a political position because we’re all over the map—we’re Democrats, Republications and Independents,” says Doug Marshall, president of CORFAC International and principal of The Klabin Company/CORFAC International in Los Angeles, Calif.
However, CORFAC decided to act after realizing how strongly its members felt about the lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., Marshall explains, adding that CORFAC’s intensions were to pressure leaders to act on the fiscal cliff, not to act on any particular tax issue.
“We don’t want to dictate and tell these people how to do it…we just want to encourage them to strike a deal,” Marshall explains. “The business community suffers without effective leadership – it creates uncertainty, and that uncertainty prevents people from acting.”
He adds: “I believe our collective voice sent a much stronger message than several individual letters. We’ve stepped up, and we hope other companies will do so.”
Marshall is not alone; BOMA’s Markling would also like more commercial real estate professionals and their organizations to get “passionate” about advocacy. “We’ve got room in the tent for everyone, and the tent isn’t full,” he says.
Markling notes that BOMA has its own lobbying group and regularly visits Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress, and every January, BOMA representatives walk the halls of Congress to educate members on issues that are important to the organization. However, he acknowledges that BOMA’s lobbying budget is a “pittance” compared to associations in other industries.
But that doesn’t discourage him. “We have a choice to either give up or educate and advocate,” Markling says. “We might not be super influential in 2012, but if we can get more people involved, maybe in four years we can be more influential.”
NMHC’s Chetti points out that lobbying efforts from commercial real estate players have historically been low profile. “This is an industry that has always worked behind the scenes,” she says. “We might not be doing things that are flamboyant, but the industry has a lot of good relationships with people on the hill. We have the ability to work on things in a more discreet manner.”
However, Chetti also notes that the fiscal cliff has compelled people to be more active and vocal. “Our membership understands the gravitas of this particular issue, and they have committed to being more involved not only at an association level, but also individually by reaching out to members of Congress,” she adds. “They are fired up… they want policymakers to get going and make a decision.”
Chetti says NMHC is making sure to address the importance of avoiding the fiscal cliff when interacting with members of Congress, as well as take the opportunity to inform leaders on the importance of the multifamily industry, how it fits into the overall economy and how the numerous tax issues related to the fiscal cliff can have an impact on the industry’s ability to grow.
“Right now, policymakers are really focusing on issues that impact commercial real estate, and that’s not always been the case,” Chetti points out. “So we’re really excited about this opportunity to educate members and to help them obtain a better understanding of our industry. And right now, they’re interested in hearing about it—we have a moment in time where we can make sure they understand the implications of their decisions for our industry.”