Ask ELi: Why Is a Realtors' PAC Supporting Aaron Stephens?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017, 8:02 am
Alice Dreger

Above: image from the PAC mailer.

Many registered voters in East Lansing received one or two mailers in the last few days supporting Aaron Stephens for City Council. Stephens is running alongside two other candidates for two open seats in the November 7 election.

The high-gloss mailers were paid for “with registered funds by the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors PAC,” legally registered in Okemos.

Four readers asked ELi why the greater Lansing realtors would be supporting Stephens, and are not supporting Ruth Beier or Susan Woods for reelection. So we’ve tried to find out, with not much luck.

Who is this PAC?

According to County campaign finance records, this Political Action Committee was only organized this month. It lists as its treasurer Brad Ward of Lansing, and it does not list a record-keeper. Brad Ward is the Vice President of Public Policy & Legal Affairs for Michigan Realtors.

What does this PAC say about Stephens?

The paper mailers from this group says Stephens “has a passion for leadership—and service.” They praise him as “the new leadership East Lansing needs to unite and move forward as one community.” They note he worked with the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, and so on. (See the first mailer here. See the second mailer here.)

An October 20 email newsletter from the same group also recently endorsed Stephens, praising him as a candidate who “support[s] private property rights!” as shown below:

That email newsletter also urges East Lansing residents to vote against the income tax proposal. But Stephens, like Beier and Woods, supports the income tax.

What’s the reasoning behind this endorsement?

I wrote to three different addresses related to this organization and have obtained no response, so I cannot explain what they mean when they say Stephens “supports private property rights” or why they would endorse a candidate who is for the East Lansing income tax proposal when they are against the income tax proposal. (See update below.)

What does Stephens say?

I asked Stephens on October 22 whether this group is aware that he is for the income tax proposal. I also asked him what he thinks they mean by saying he is for private property rights.

Stephens replied the same day, “Honestly I haven't seen the mailer. I appreciate their support and I heard that it went out but you would have to ask them about the language for their own mailer. I wouldn't have any input into that.”

He added, “And yes I'm assuming they know [about his position on the income tax]. I've been public with my position on the tax.”

The same day, I followed up and asked Stephens, “So would you describe yourself as ‘for private property rights’?” He has not replied.

If we get any more responses on these questions, we will update this report.

UPDATE, 4:30 pm:

After this article was published, we were contacted by Mark Dickens, Vice President of Policy and Operations for the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors. Dickens had been one of the people I wrote to on October 22 but did not hear back from.

Dickens sent "talking points" this afternoon, all of which were non-specific with regard to what exactly the PAC believes distinguishes Stephens from the two other candidates. They cited such things as "his desire to collaborate with others" and his interest in "retaining young talent for job providers and future homeowners." 

I called Dickens and asked him to be more specific to help our readers understand the endorsement. I asked him what are the specific policies, laws, or issues in East Lansing on which he saw Stephens being likely to take the PAC's stand.

Dickens told me, "I'm not sure I even want to go there. We're not negative about anything. We are just pro-Aaron Stephens. We have worked with East Lansing and will continue to work with them. We would just like to see some increased cooperation. We like his vision of working with Michigan State [University].  We like to see things done that attract young workers and families and improve neighborhoods."

Asked why the PAC is endorsing a candidate who is pro-income tax when the PAC is anti-income tax, Dickens replied, "We feel like we can work with Aaron on that." He did not elaborate.


Want to learn more before you vote?

ELi’s reporters have been doing extensive coverage for you of the November 7 ballot, including on the candidates for Council and the three tax proposals. Check out our coverage by going to our summary pages on the Council election and on the three tax proposals.

Have a question you want to ask ELi to investigate? Contact us!