Under the radar of high-profile foreign policy hearings, the Senate is close to giving an $11 billion cushion to the housing lobby that said it would hold their campaign contributions hostage for a bailout.
Unhappy with the economic stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year and faced with a lagging housing market Brian Catalde, president of the National Homebuilders Association, said his industry would quit contributing to federal races unless their friends in Congress gave homebuilders an economic stimulus package of their own.
This was a serious threat. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAHB poured millions into federal elections over the years, slightly favoring the party in power.
NAHB gave $2.2 million to federal elections in 2004. That year, Republicans received the lion’s share of those donations, 67 percent. In the 2006 cycle when Republicans retained control of Congress for most of the year until Democrats swept the mid-term elections in November, the group collectively donated $2.8 million--73 percent of that going to Republicans. In 2008, however, when the Democrats are in full control of the floor schedule, NAHB began donating more generously to Democratic races. So far, in the 2008 election cycle the NAHB has given almost a million dollars to federal candidates, 55 percent of that money to Republican causes, 45 percent to Democratic causes
In exchange for their continued financial support, the homebuilders want Congress to issue a “net operating loss deduction” to allow profit-losing builders to write off existing tax liability with anticipated future losses, tax credits for new homeowners to prevent homebuilders from having to further reduce prices on the houses they are selling and tax-exempt bonds to refinance subprime mortgages.
Catalde explained his quid-pro-quo in no uncertain terms. In a February 12 statement he said, “Today, the National Association of Home Builders’ Political Action Committee BUILD-PAC, and it’s 150-member board of trustees representing all 50 states, agreed to cease all approvals and disbursements of BUILD-PAC contributions to federal congressional candidates and their PACs until further notice….More needs to be done to jump-start housing and ensure the economy does not fall into recession. This action will remain in effect until further notice.”
A day later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) introduced the “Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008.” Over the years, NAHB have donated $40,000 to Reid’s re-election campaigns and Leadership PAC.
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