Builders have been an integral part of their local political establishments for years, so hearing about builders flexing their political muscle is nothing new, right?

Not really. But what's changed is builders' willingness to write letters, knock on doors, stuff envelopes, effectively prep candidates to speak to the local media, and spend money--in excess of $1 million in some cases.

"Politics for builders used to be reactive--now it's proactive,'' says Clayton Traylor, the NAHB's senior staff vice president for state and local political operations, who adds that contributions to Build-PAC for federal candidates in 2003 were $292,000 higher than at the same point in the last off-election year cycle, in 2001.

"The [November elections] show there's a connection between getting active, spending money, and achieving results,'' says Traylor. Here are some examples:

  • Builders in Washington state raised $1 million of the $1.5 million that businesses spent to fight ergonomics work rules developed by the state's Department of Labor and Industries. The BIA of Washington (BIAW) estimated that the rules (adopted in 2000, but never enforced) would add $2,408 to the cost of roofing, framing, and drywall work on a two-story, 2,000-square-foot single-family home. They would have required builders to assess every job to determine if work tasks fell under one of 14 risk factors. The risks included bending, squatting, lifting, and working with arms above the head. Under the rules, workers could do such jobs for only four hours a day. Most builders and businesspeople considered the rules impossible to comply with and penalties were stringent, with fines of up to $70,000 for repeat violations. The BIAW sponsored the campaign with help from Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, and several other business groups. The campaign succeeded, with 53 percent of the voters agreeing to repeal the work rules under Initiative 841 in last November's election.

  • The real estate and development industry in Northern Virginia spent about $500,000 to unseat a Board of Supervisors in Loudoun County that the builders perceived as antidevelopment. Builders were upset because the old board eliminated a plan to build 80,000 units over 20 years, prohibited extending sewer lines in transition zones west of Dulles International Airport, and significantly increased review times--meaning new plans could take eight months to approve. The NAHB and the Northern Virginia BIA worked very closely with the builders in Loudoun County to help the development interests identify candidates and organize the locals to call their peers and get out the vote. The NAHB also offered special classes for potential candidates on how to design direct mail pieces, develop a voter list, and talk to the media and voters about important issues. The result: The board flipped from 8-1 antidevelopment to 6-3 pro-development. While builders won, opponents claim that the new board won't be able to open the county to growth, provide new services, and simultaneously cut taxes, pointing out that in the past four years, the county absorbed 55,000 new residents, opened 16 schools, and hired 300 people in the sheriff's and fire departments. Annual debt service jumped from $35 million to $85 million during that period.

  • The Long Island Builders Institute formed a coalition with Realtors and local activist groups to defeat a proposed 2 percent real estate transfer tax on homes in the town of Brookhaven, N.Y. The Brookhaven Citizens Against Higher Taxes raised more than $300,000 to defeat the measure, known as Proposition 1. The group said the tax was designed to allow the town to raise $500 million over 20 years in order to buy roughly 39,000 acres of open space in eastern Long Island. Development interests were concerned that the move would have pitted the builders against the town in a bidding war for land, possibly shutting down growth in eastern Long Island for more than a decade. The group claimed to have had enough votes to defeat the measure, but it also filed suit in the State Supreme Court. The judge in the case removed Proposition 1 from the ballot two weeks before last November's election, ruling that the ballot language was misleading.

    Three Big Wins
    By raising money and organizing the rank and file, builders scored at least three significant wins in last November's elections.
    Location Money raised Issue Vehicle Result
    Washington state $1,000,000 Ergonomics regulations Initiative 841 Regulations repealed by 53-47 vote
    Loudoun County, Va. $500,000 Development Board of Supervisors election Pro-development forces now control board, 6-3
    Brookhaven, N.Y. $300,000 Transfer tax Ballot question State Supreme Court judge removed question from ballot