Nov. 2 2017 11:20 AM

Real estate PAC donates $32,823 to newcomer Stephens in EL Council race

The Greater Lansing Association of Realtors wants political neophyte Aaron Stephens on the East Lansing City Council.

Partnering with the Michigan Association of Realtors and the National Association for Realtors, the local real estate trade group has orchestrated a $32,823 campaign blitz for the 21-yearold Michigan State University senior.

That’s three times the $10,383 that Stephens, a Democrat seeking a nonpartisan seat on the Council, raised for his campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Ingham County Clerk on Friday. He spent $4,016, leaving him with $6,367 in the final week of the campaign.

Incumbent Ruth Beier didn’t raise any money for her campaign, nor did she spend any, leaving her with $1,824 cash on hand, according to her finance report. The other incumbent, Susan Woods, had not filed her report as of Tuesday morning.

The three are on Tuesday’s ballot to fill two seats.

Mark Dickens, policy director at the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors, said his group “wants to see change in East Lansing.” He cited Stephens’ willingness to listen and “unite” the community.

“We’d like to see increased collaboration and cooperation with Michigan State University,” Dickins said, echoing a theme of Stephens’ campaign. In general, he said, the association wants to foster greater regional cooperation.

He said the organization plans to “start supporting candidates in this fashion going forward. “We think collaboration and cooperation is important to moving the region forward.” He said, to a lesser financial extent, the association has backed Lansing mayoral candidate Andy Schor and Council candidates Kathie Dunbar, Tina Houghton, Brian Jackson and Peter Spadafore for the same reason.

Dickens said his team worked with the National Association of Realtors to design a campaign to advocate for Stephens’ election to office. The national group political action committee was the seventh largest PAC in total receipts from 2016 to 2017, according to Open Secrets. The independent campaign watchdog reported the group raised just over $8.5 million.

Also involved in the campaign to elect Stephens is the former legal director of the Michigan Republican Party, Eric Doster. His office is the mailing address for the the new Greater Lansing Association of Realtors PAC. It was formed by the national, state and local real estate associations on Oct. 4, according to finance filings from the Ingham County Clerk’s Office.

Seven days later, the National Association of Realtors sent a check for $32,823 to the newly formed GLAR PAC. On Oct. 20, the GLAR PAC sent all $32,823 to Coloradobased Access Marketing Services. It is providing mailings and Internet ads for Stephens.

How Stephens’ candidacy advanced local real estate interests is clouded. He has acknowledged the need to discuss current zoning and rental restrictions, a perennial issued in East Lansing. He said he was surprised by the spending.

Asked if the association was after any specific legislative changes to benefit Realtors, Dickens said its motives were entirely aimed at fostering more cooperation “to move together as a region.”

Beier said in an interview Monday night she was unclear why the group had endorsed only Stephens in the race. But she said she was informed about the decision earlier. She could not recall who specifically from GLAR had called her, but she said the first reason they gave for the group’s decision not to endorse her was her income tax stance.

Woods, Beier and Stephens are all on the record supporting the controversial tax proposal on Tuesday’s ballot to impose an income tax on residents. Beier said she pointed out to the GLAR representative that all three candidates for the two seats have essentially the same position.

“He didn’t really have a response to that,” she said.

Dickens said the tax proposal did not play a role in the group’s decision, and that no candidates had discussed specific policy issues during their vetting process.

For his part, Stephens said he’s “proud” to have the support of the organization.

“I’m happy to have the support of people from both sides of aisle,” he said in phone interview Tuesday morning. “I am glad they support my vision, but I have no control over what they spend.”

State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, who is one of Stephens’ chief supporters, did not respond to requests for comment.