“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan
The NBA Championships are well underway and so is the planning and implementation of legislative action days (LADs) by associations and corporations. Lobbyists will work in tandem with the organization’s policy experts and its public relations personnel to execute a schedule that will educate lawmakers about legislative goals and illustrate the economic and personal impact of them.
Many organizations, however, have left one player off the LAD court, and that team member – the PAC director – is a vital one if your organization wants to turn a year of legislative wins into a more sustained program of success.
Some organizations are wary of integrating the PAC into the LAD because of compliance concerns. While you should remember that fouls lose games, as with any event where there is a crossover between policy and politics, if you include your compliance players in the planning, those concerns should not prevent action.
So how do you increase PAC visibility and involvement in the LAD? Here are a few ideas for how PAC staff can be team players during LAD planning:
- Writing The Playbook. PAC directors should be a resource for government relations’ staff as they decide which lawmakers to meet with and which to leave off the LAD roster.
- Helping Your Members Suit Up. The LAD team will produce materials for organization members and officials in advance of lawmaker meetings. These materials are incomplete if they don’t include data about the contributions your PAC has made to a lawmaker, along with your political footprint.
- A Great Bench. Let’s be honest: are there ever enough players on the court when member companies and their representatives fly-in? PAC directors should act as a LAD team’s sixth, seventh … and eighth man (or woman).
The PAC should also host at least one event. (For affiliated PACs, corporations and associations are able to pay for the marketing of these events.) Options include:
- Helping Your Members Understand The State Of Play. Your colleagues or members are flying in from all over the country and may have varying degrees of political “awareness.” Hosting a dinner, the evening before the LAD, or a breakfast the morning of, with an influential political commentator is an excellent way to help them understand the political pressures lawmakers face each and every day. Another option, particularly in an election year, is for the PAC director to provide a simple overview of the electoral map: what states and seats are in play? What does history tell us about the races? How do each party’s fundraising numbers look? What are the unknowns in this election? Context is everything … and this “inside baseball” is vital information for your members. And especially for PAC members, that’s what they want in return for their investment.
- Holding A Pep Rally With Your Champions. Consider holding a PAC event with one lawmaker “champion” or several candidates of interest to your industry. You could invite all PAC-eligible LAD participants to explain the importance of the PAC to those who are not currently engaged or you could create an “exclusive” event only for your top donors as a reward. Choosing the right venue also will give your members the ability to engage with lawmakers in a more relaxed, engaging setting.
- Rewarding Your MVPs. An event doesn’t need to include lawmakers to illustrate the importance of a PAC. Create an event where you celebrate the contributions of your top PAC supporters. Invite them to discuss the importance of the PAC to them and to their employees and customers. These testimonials will help build and energize your donor base.
There is one final benefit to integrating your PAC into your LAD and that has to do with the fluidity of lawmaker schedules. If your organization has never had a LAD meeting interrupted or thwarted by floor votes, hearing schedules or the general whims of lawmakers and their staffs, then it’s an anomaly. Even the best LAD team can’t plan for a historical snowfall that shuts down the nation’s capital or individual district or state emergencies that demand lawmakers fly back home. If the LAD agenda is torn apart at the last minute, the PAC director can help rebuild it by providing access to party committee or other political speakers – even challengers for office – so all of those airline tickets and hotel rooms don’t go to waste.
Your PAC also serves a purpose after the final buzzer. Remember: your goal is to build a sustained program of success that extends well beyond the current election season so keep the conversation going after participants return home. You should communicate to donors how many PAC-supported lawmakers your members and officials met with during the LAD. (Hopefully, you collected these metrics – and photographs of events – when the meetings where happening.). The PAC should also send thank you notes to lawmakers’ campaign committees to remind them of your support.
Certainly the goal of a LAD is… to spur legislative action this year, but that doesn’t have to be its only goal. To create a legacy – to routinely win championships and to make history like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls – your organization must build sustained relationships with lawmaker champions who share your principles, mission and view of the marketplace and the risks and opportunities in it.
That’s why organizations have PACs on their team in the first place, and it’s why the PAC should be suited up for the LAD.
Dan Ekstein is a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising, and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations.