Realtors Spend $2 Million on Real Estate Initiative

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The National Association of Realtors has spent nearly $2 million on behalf of a constitutional initiative that would forbid state and local governments from enacting a tax on real estate transfers and sales.

The Chicago-based group has given $1.95 million in direct donations or in-kind expenditures to the Montana Coalition to Prevent Double Taxation, Lee Newspapers of Montana reports.

Records filed with the state political practices office say the National Association of Realtors has given all but $7,000 of the $1.79 million in direct donations the coalition has received as it works to pass CI-105.

The Montana Association of Realtors is spearheading the drive, with support from the state’s major business and trade associations.

“This has been a Montana campaign from the start,” said campaign manager Chuck Denowh. “We’ve got almost 30 statewide and local organizations that are part of the coalition, including kind of a who’s who of the business groups in the state, the Realtors, the Stockgrowers, the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, among others. Those are the same groups that have always opposed transfer taxes in the Legislature.”

The coalition has spent about $1.72 million, leaving nearly $70,000 in the bank as of Oct. 13.

A new committee, the Montana Citizens Coalition to Save the Constitution formed on Oct. 11 to oppose the initiative. It listed only a $100 donation from its treasurer, former Rep. Sheila Rice, D-Great Falls, as of Oct. 13. The group has since launched a web site and has begun running radio and cable television ads.

“I think we have enough money to tell the truth by this initiative process,” Rice said. “It’s really an attempt by Chicago Realtors to hijack our constitution.”

A committee called 400 Percent Is Too High, which is advocating Initiative 164 to cap payday and title loan interest rates at 36 percent, has raised about $349,000 and spent nearly $194,000 by Oct. 13.

The Coalition for Consumer Choice, which opposes I-164, has raised about $170,000 and spent about $166,000.

Groups on both sides of Initiative 161, which would abolish outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game and deer combination hunting licenses, have each raised about $60,000.

Sportsmen for I-161 has raised and spent about $59,300 and has debts of more than $23,000 for loans made to the campaign by the initiative’s author, Kurt Kephart of Billings.

The group opposing the issue, Supporters for Preserving Montana’s Outfitting Tradition, has reported raising more than $58,000 and spending more than $39,000.

The next campaign finance reports are due Oct. 28.