Alliance members overwhelmingly cite political advocacy as the primary benefit of association membership. And last week, after months of effort, the Alliance experienced two major wins in the advocacy arena, one on Capitol Hill and one at the NAIC.
The initiatives that resulted in these victories and the tactics employed to achieve them were as different as the issues themselves. The first involved the long-standing fraternal tax exemption and the second, a much more recent debate about the application of Principles-Based Reserving regulation to small insurers. The fact that the Alliance can effectively impact the public policy debate on these wildly divergent issues speaks volumes about the organization’s ability to utilize advocacy strategies that are appropriate to the issue being addressed and the policymaking forum in which debate is taking place.
Of course, there is still work to be done on both issues – political advocacy rarely results in a permanent success. But, for now, let me tip my hat to the Alliance members, along with our professional advocacy consultants and staff, who made both of these victories possible. This week, I will take a look at the factors that contributed to our federal victory; next week I’ll explore our efforts to impact the outcome of the PBR debate.
House Congressional Resolution 19 – The 2015-16 session of Congress marked the Alliance’s second attempt at introducing and generating broad-based support for HCR 19, the “Fraternal Resolution.” In the 2013-14 session of Congress, we recruited 53 co-sponsors for the measure – which we thought was quite an accomplishment. This time around, we set a goal of securing 100 co-sponsors. As I mentioned last week, more than a few folks (me included) thought this might be just beyond our reach. Nonetheless, we set our minds to the task and began an initiative that included broad-based participation from member societies through the online “Race to 100” grassroots campaign, combined with personal visits to legislators and their staffs (commonly referred to as “grasstops” advocacy) from Alliance member society CEOs and executive staff. The third-leg of the stool was the day-to-day work done on Capitol Hill by the professional advocates retained by the Alliance; the government affairs staff and advocacy counsel of our largest member, Thrivent Financial; and the Washington, D.C.-based government affairs staff of our second largest member, the Knights of Columbus.
This multi-faceted effort worked flawlessly. Thousands of individuals from Alliance member societies – employees, field representatives, local chapter leaders, and rank-and-file members – emailed their Representatives urging them to sign-on as a co-sponsor. Armed with the information about the number of constituent emails each Representative had received, the professional advocates from the Alliance and Thrivent, along with KofC staff, took to Capitol Hill virtually every day to follow-up with legislators and staff urging them to join the fraternal movement. Before we knew it, we had 60 co-sponsors, then 70, then 80…
We suddenly realized that our goal of 100 just might be achievable after all – which gave us all the incentive to double-down on our efforts, generate more grassroots contacts from members, and continue to deliver our message to lawmakers who we knew had heard from their constituents. On Friday, July 8, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) became HCR 19’s 100th co-sponsor. Since that time, Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) and Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) have also signed on. The complete list of co-sponsors can be found here. It’s a glorious combination of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, which only demonstrates the universal appeal of the fraternal model and the fraternal message.
Securing 102 co-sponsors for HCR 19 – almost 25% of the House of Representatives – is a terrific accomplishment. But it’s not the end of the debate on tax reform. After the elections, a new Administration and a new Congress is almost certain to put tax issues front and center. We’ll need to sharpen and expand our ability to communicate with lawmakers at every level. More than three thousand individuals participated in the incredibly successful HCR 19 “Race to 100” campaign. Yet, there are more than 8 million fraternalists in the U.S. In retrospect, having only 3,123 participate in a grassroots campaign on this most important of issues is…disappointing. On the bright side, with just a little effort I think it’s possible to generate 100,000 emails to members of Congress in a future campaign. Imagine the impact we could have on Capitol Hill if that were the case.
Getting to that point, however, will take some effort on all of our parts. Fraternals must make the commitment to collect email addresses for all their members. Online campaigns just don’t work if they are promoted in newspapers or magazines. Fraternals also have to be willing to educate their members about the tax exemption issue and the need to engage in political advocacy efforts to promote awareness of and support for the exemption. This means conducting training sessions at your conventions, regional meetings, and local chapter meetings. It means having the willingness to use those email addresses you worked so hard to collect to communicate information on your society – including information on public policy issues that affect your organization and its members.
Advocacy is not a “voluntary” exercise. It should be an involuntary and life-sustaining component of your society – like breathing. And advocacy should not be outsourced to your association or its professional consultants. Yes, the Alliance staff and our retained advocates play an important supporting role. But unless members are willing to take the lead on telling our story to public policymakers, all the lobbyists in the world won’t be able to get the job done.
So, great work to all those who participated. Take a minute to relish our success. Then start thinking about ways we can go from 3,000 grassroots participants to 100,000, one member at a time.
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