ImPACt: What It Is, Why it Matters - Washington Insider
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ImPACt: What It Is, Why it Matters

By Christian Klein

Article Date: 03-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

The effect of local dealers coming together to support a congressman or senator is powerful and long-lasting.

Christian KleinOne of the first projects dropped on my desk when I started in AED's Washington office in 1996 was to work with equipment industry local groups to organize political support for congressional candidates. Twelve years and more than 70 local group fundraisers later, AED's political visibility has increased dramatically and the ImPACt program is a major reason why.

The ImPACt program has been so successful because it's so simple: Local group members meet with a House or Senate candidate to deliver an AED Political Action Committee (PAC) check and make personal contributions. It's easy, but it pays big dividends.

In recent years the cost of congressional campaigns has skyrocketed. The average House member spends more than $1 million per cycle to get (re)elected and the average senator has to spend 10 times that much. As races have become more costly, the PACs that provide campaign resources have become more important. In order for an organization to be effective on Capitol Hill, it has to play a role in helping to elect candidates who share the organization's policy objectives.

A high level of member political participation is a hallmark of a mature trade association. Strong support for the organization's PAC helps the organization be more successful, while sending the message that its members are politically engaged and buy in to what the association is doing on their behalf.

AED's ImPACt local group fundraiser program is therefore important at a number of levels. There's no question that members of Congress appreciate the support they get from AED and that our contributions have made a difference in helping to elect equipment industry allies. But the real value of the ImPACt program is that it triangulates the relationship between AED's Washington office, our members "back home," and members of Congress.

Each ImPACt meeting is an opportunity for lawmakers to learn more about your company, about the role you play in the economic life of the state or district, about AED, and about the issues that matter to our industry. But there are also more subtle messages: Candidates see that you're politically active and that you care about what's happening on the Hill, which means they'll be more responsive in the future when you contact them about an issue after the election.

The first step in organizing an ImPACt event is to work with AED's Washington office to identify a candidate. Where the candidate stands on the issues is more important than party labels. Does he or she support increased investment in highway, water, and airport infrastructure? Will they support a gas tax increase to help fund the road program? Do they support death tax repeal and product liability reform? Will they vote to make health insurance more affordable for small businesses? Are they committed to the free market and entrepreneurship?

Once you have buy-in from your local group members, AED's Washington staff will contact the candidate to get the ball rolling. Then you have to decide what form the event will take. Local group fundraisers have ranged from formal dinners and less formal luncheons to roundtable discussions over a cup of coffee at the candidate's campaign headquarters. It's very important to work out the details with the campaign office to ensure that election laws are followed.

Although candidates will appreciate as much money as possible, don't worry about having too few participants. We've yet to find a member of Congress who wasn't willing to have an ImPACt meeting with even a handful of interested constituents. (The $2,500 that AED PAC puts up for the ImPACt meeting tends to be a pretty good attention getter.) As you prepare for the meeting, AED can also provide materials and talking points to guide your discussion and make sure the meeting is as productive as possible.

Participating in the ImPACt program is one of the best ways for local groups to support what AED is doing in Washington on behalf of equipment distributors. If you're interested in hosting an event this year, we hope you'll give us a call.

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Article Categories:  Public Policy